Thursday, December 31, 2015

Quote of the Day

Sound decisions are based on identifying relevant variables and attaching probabilities to each of them. That's an analytic process but also involves subjective judgements. The ultimate decision then reflects all of this input, but also instinct, experience, and 'feel'. All the time bearing in mind that reality is always more complex than concepts and models.

A true probabilistic view of life quickly leads to the recognition that almost all significant issues are enormously complex and demand that one delve into those complexities to identify the relevant considerations and the inevitable trade-offs. With an enormous number of competing considerations, the key to reaching the best possible decision is to identify all of them and decide what odds and import to attach to each.

- In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington by Robert Rubin

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Big Short

It is ludicrous to believe that asset bubbles can only be recognized in hindsight. There are specific identifiers that are entirely recognizable during the bubble’s inflation. One hallmark of mania is the rapid rise in the incidence and complexity of fraud…. The FBI reports mortgage-related fraud is up fivefold since 2000. Bad behavior was no longer on the fringes of an otherwise sound economy; it was its central feature.

Awesome adaptation of Mike Lewis' book (although the book was much funnier); Steve Carell has the best role and he has done a phenomenal job. Although nothing changed with Wall Street since the book came out; I am glad at-least we got a good movie.

Quote of the Day

Probability does pervade the universe, and in this sense, the old chestnut about baseball imitating life really has validity. The statistics of streaks and slumps, properly understood, do teach an important lesson about epistemology, and life in general. The history of a species, or any natural phenomenon, that requires unbroken continuity in a world of trouble, works like a batting streak. All are games of a gambler playing with a limited stake against a house with infinite resources. The gambler must eventually go bust. His aim can only be to stick around as long as possible, to have some fun while he's at it, and, if he happens to be a moral agent as well, to worry about staying the course with honor!

Stephen Jay Gould

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Philosophy Will Be The Key That Unlocks Artificial Intelligence

But no brain on Earth is yet close to knowing what brains do in order to achieve any of that functionality. The enterprise of achieving it artificially – the field of "artificial general intelligence" or AGI – has made no progress whatever during the entire six decades of its existence.

Despite this long record of failure, AGI must be possible. That is because of a deep property of the laws of physics, namely the universality of computation. It entails that everything that the laws of physics require physical objects to do can, in principle, be emulated in arbitrarily fine detail by some program on a general-purpose computer, provided it is given enough time and memory.


That AGIs are "people" has been implicit in the very concept from the outset. If there were a program that lacked even a single cognitive ability that is characteristic of people, then by definition it would not qualify as an AGI; using non-cognitive attributes (such as percentage carbon content) to define personhood would be racist, favouring organic brains over silicon brains. But the fact that the ability to create new explanations is the unique, morally and intellectually significant functionality of "people" (humans and AGIs), and that they achieve this functionality by conjecture and criticism, changes everything.

Currently, personhood is often treated symbolically rather than factually – as an honorific, a promise to pretend that an entity (an ape, a foetus, a corporation) is a person in order to achieve some philosophical or practical aim. This isn't good. Never mind the terminology; change it if you like, and there are indeed reasons for treating various entities with respect, protecting them from harm and so on. All the same, the distinction between actual people, defined by that objective criterion, and other entities, has enormous moral and practical significance, and is going to become vital to the functioning of a civilisation that includes AGIs.


Some people are wondering whether we should welcome our new robot overlords and/or how we can rig their programming to make them constitutionally unable to harm humans (as in Asimov's "three laws of robotics"), and/or prevent them from acquiring the theory that the universe should be converted into paperclips. That's not the problem. It has always been the case that a single exceptionally creative person can be thousands of times as productive, economically, intellectually, or whatever, as most people; and that such a person, turning their powers to evil instead of good, can do enormous harm.

These phenomena have nothing to do with AGIs. The battle between good and evil ideas is as old as our species and will continue regardless of the hardware on which it is running. The issue is: we want the intelligences with (morally) good ideas always to defeat the evil intelligences, biological and artificial; but we are fallible, and our own conception of "good" needs continual improvement. How should society be organised so as to promote that improvement? "Enslave all intelligence" would be a catastrophically wrong answer, and "enslave all intelligence that doesn't look like us" would not be much better.

One implication is that we must stop regarding education (of humans or AGIs alike) as instruction – as a means of transmitting existing knowledge unaltered, and causing existing values to be enacted obediently. As Karl Popper wrote (in the context of scientific discovery, but it applies equally to the programming of AGIs and the education of children): "there is no such thing as instruction from without … We do not discover new facts or new effects by copying them, or by inferring them inductively from observation, or by any other method of instruction by the environment. We use, rather, the method of trial and the elimination of error." That is to say, conjecture and criticism. Learning must be something that newly created intelligences do, and control, for themselves.

- More Here

The Revenant

As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe... keep breathing.

Great cinematography and phenomenal performance by Leonardo DiCaprio but a wafer thin story line dragged too long and too violent.

Quote of the Day

It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.

- Leo Tolstoy

Monday, December 28, 2015


They're terrified of you. Bennet Omalu is going to war with a corporation that has 20 million people on a weekly basis craving their product the same way they crave food. The NFL owns a day of the week, the same day the Church used to own. Now it's theirs. They're very big.

Will Smith's accent, enhanced darker skin, hands and everything fit's perfectly to the character of real life Nigerian born and now American Dr. Bennet Omalu.

If repeated blows to the head in a football career spanning 18 years can give CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy); can you imagine how much benefits 18 years meditation could bring?

Sorry, I could resist inserting the inverse mental model here. As far as playing football; stupidity will always prevail as long as the age old economic rule of supply and demand are in tandem.

What I've Been Reading

In learning any art the important things to learn are, first, Principles; and second, Method. This is true of the art of producing ideas.

A Technique for Producing Ideas: The simple, five-step formula anyone can use to be more creative in business and in life! by James Webb Young.

This book was written in 1940 but yet its has timeless wisdom in its 40 pages.
  • Gather raw materials of immediate problem and the materials which come from a constant enrichment of your store of general knowledge.
  • Work over these raw materials in your mind.
  • Incubating stage - let the subconscious mind to do the synthesis.
  • Actual birth of ideas. 
  • Practical use of idea - unleashing the idea in the world.

Quote of the Year 2015

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Quote of the Day

Humans have always exalted dreams. Pindar of Thebes, the Greek lyric poet, suggested that the soul is more active while dreaming than while awake. He believed that during a dream, the awakened soul may see the future, “an award of joy or sorrow drawing near.” So it’s no wonder that humans were quick to reserve dreams for people alone; researchers for many years claimed dreams were a property of “higher” minds. But any pet owner who has heard her dog woof or seen his cat twitch during sleep knows that is not true. MIT researchers now know not only that rats dream, but what they dream about. Neurons in the brain fire in distinctive patterns while a rat in a maze performs particular tasks. The researchers repeatedly saw the exact same patterns reproduced while the rats slept—so clearly that they could tell what point in the maze the rat was dreaming about, and whether the animal was running or walking in the dream. The rats’ dreams took place in an area of the brain known to be involved with memory, further supporting a notion that one function of dreams is to help an animal remember what it has learned.

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Wisdom Of The Year 2015

And the reason for that passion, as Arthur slowly came to realize, was that the free-market ideal had become bound up with American ideals of individual rights and individual liberty: both are grounded in the notion that society works best when people are left alone to do what they want.

"Every democratic society has to solve a certain problem," says Arthur: "If you let people do their own thing, how do you assure the common good? In Germany, that problem is solved by people watching everybody else out the windows. People will come right up to you and say, 'Put a cap on that baby!'

In England, they have this notion of a body of wise people at the top looking after things. "Oh, yes we've had this Royal Commission, chaired by Lord So-and-So. We've taken all your interests into account, and there'll be a nuclear reactor in your backyard tomorrow."

But in the United States, the ideals maximum individual freedom - or, as Arthur puts it, "letting everybody be their own John Wayne and run around with guns." However much that ideal is compromised in practice, it still holds mythic power.

But increasing returns cut to the heart of that myth. If small chance events can lock you in to any of several possible outcomes, then the outcome that's actually selected may not be the best. And that means that maximum individual freedom - and the free market - might not produce that best of all possible worlds. So by advocating increasing returns, Arthur was innocently treading into a minefield.

- Excerpts from Complexity: Emerging Science At The Edge Of Order And Chaosby M. Mitchell Waldrop. That's the most powerful case against Libertarianism I have ever read and it's so true.


As you grow up and come into this world that has all sorts of things in it: Money, family, crime, betrayal. When you realize the only thing you’re going to have is what you make.

Once in a life time performance by Jennifer Lawerence; thank goodness, Hollywood still remembers how to "make" movies without superheroes. I am betting 70/30 odds in favor of her being nominated for Oscar.

Quote of the Day

The best way to verify that you are alive is by checking if you like variations. Remember that food would not have a taste if it weren’t for hunger; results are meaningless without effort, joy without sadness, convictions without uncertainty, and an ethical life isn’t so when stripped of personal risks.

- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder

Friday, December 25, 2015

Max Holiday Card 2015

Wish you all a wonderful holiday season 

What I've Been Reading

It takes a special person to understand what it means to have a friend who's an octopus. 

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery. A wonderful, mesmerizing and captivating book; I finished the book in one sitting. We need more writers like Montgomery who can enlighten sapiens on the how the diversity on this blue planet is more important than their traditions and gastro-intestinal longings for calamari. I am pessimistic when its comes to human nature and their ability to change their minds but I have my deepest respect for people like Montgomery who try.

So if an octopus is this smart, what other animals out there that could be this smart that we don't think of as being sentient and personalities and memories and all these things?


It's amazing how little we know about how animals live. The more you know, the weirder things get. It really only in the last twenty years we could even be having this conversation. We're only starting to understand animals. 

Quote of the Day

It has always been my private conviction that any man who puts his intelligence up against a fish and loses had it coming.
- John Steinbeck

Thursday, December 24, 2015

What I've Been Reading

What is nirvana? 
Seeing one thing through to the end. 

Sit Like a Buddha: A Pocket Guide to Meditation by Lodro Rinzler. This little book can change lives; one of the simplest and practical book on meditation ever. I will treasuring this one for life.
In some sense, all seven qualities of being a dharmic person could be summarized by that term: just be kind, decent human being as a result of the fact that you are more mindful and aware than you might have been if you were not meditating. If you are able to do that then the teachings of Buddha - the dharma - are no longer something that is way out there and separate from you and your life. They are part of your being. When you feel that you view the world though the lens of meditation, exhibiting these basic qualities, then you know you are a dharmic person. You have allowed the meditation practice to change you, not into a different person, but into realizing more of who you already are. 
The simplest trick to turn meditation into a daily routine is:

"Keep Sitting!"

Quote of the Day

Where you are going to spend your time and your energy is one of the most important decisions you get to make in life.

- Jeff Bezos

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What I've Been Reading

And we have to start paying attention to those supposedly irrelevant factors, what I will call SIFs for short.

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard H. Thaler. Wonderful auto-biography of behavioral economics;  I was laughing so hard at times that Max was jealous and started jumping on me. I have learned so much from Thaler and co., over the years;  they helped me understand human nature better. Thank you for nudging the world towards a better place.

Having read Tetlock's Superforecasting last week; I am going to make two bold predictions (with a time frame of-course):
  • Thaler's will be receiving his long over due Nobel within next five years. 
  • Sapiens will screw up behavioral economics within next fifteen years that it will look paternalist rather than libertarian paternalism.  
Here's economist John Lott defending (read sunk cost) Coarse theorem:
Couldn't the low trading of the mugs be explained by transaction cost? I explained that the tokens experiment had ruled out this explanation - after all, the tokens had the same transaction cost as the mugs, and the tokens did trade as much as the theory predicted. She (Lott's wife) seemed satisfied, but then Lott jumped in to "help". "Well," he asked, "couldn't we just call the endowment effect itself a transaction cost?". I was shocked by this comment; transaction cost are supposed to cost of doing transaction - not a desire to do a transaction. If we are free to relabel preferences as "costs" at will so that behavior appears to be consistent with the standard theory, then the theory is both untestable and worthless. So instead of trying to reason with Lott, I turned to Posner and asked him whether he would now concede that I am not the least scientific person in the room. Posner smiled, nodded his agreement, and everyone in the room who could see him laughed. 

Quote of the Day

A person thus described may be “rational” in the limited sense of revealing no inconsistencies in his choice behavior, but if he has no use for these distinctions between quite different concepts, he must be a bit of a fool. The purely economic man is indeed close to being a social moron.

- Amartya Sen

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Gary Marcus - Can This Man Make AI More Human...

Marcus joined Pinker’s lab at MIT at 19, and Pinker remembers him as a precocious student. “I assigned to him a project analyzing a simple yes-no hypothesis on a small data set of the recorded speech from three children,” he said in an e-mail. “A few days later he had performed an exhaustive analysis on the speech of 25 children which tested a half-dozen hypotheses and became the basis for a major research monograph.”

As a graduate student, Marcus gathered further evidence to support Pinker’s ideas about learning and added insights of his own. He pioneered the computerized analysis of large quantities of cognitive research data, studying thousands of recordings of children’s speech to find instances where they made errors like “breaked” and “goed” instead of “broke” and “went.” This seemed to confirm that children grasp the rules of grammar and then apply them to new words, while learning the exceptions to these rules by rote.

On the basis of this research, Marcus began questioning the connectionist belief that intelligence would essentially emerge from larger neural networks, and he started focusing on the limitations and quirks of deep learning. A deep-­learning system could be trained to recognize particular species of birds in images or video clips, and to tell the difference between ones that can fly and ones that can’t. But it would need to see millions of sample images in order to do this, and it wouldn’t know anything about why a bird isn’t able to fly.

Marcus’s work with children, in fact, led him to an important conclusion. In a 2001 book called The Algebraic Mind, he argued that the developing human mind learns both from examples and by generating rules from what it has learned. In other words, the brain uses something like a deep-learning system for certain tasks, but it also stores and manipulates rules about how the world works so that it can draw useful conclusions from just a few experiences.

This doesn’t exactly mean that Geometric Intelligence is trying to mimic the way things happen in the brain. “In an ideal world, we would know how kids do it,” Marcus says. “We would know what brain circuits are involved, the computations they are doing. But the neuroscience remains a mystery.” Rather, he hints that the company is using a grab bag of techniques, including ones “compatible” with deep learning, to try to re-create human learning.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

I think I could better predict someone’s risk of a heart attack based upon their Visa bill than their genome.

- Dr. Harry Greenspun

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Walk

This is Impossible. But I am still going to do it.

Razor thin story line turned into a visually stunning and a beautiful movie by one of the most gifted story tellers of our time Robert Zemeckis.

What Combat Leaders Need to Know About Neuroscience

On the individual level, leaders should develop personal cognitive battle drills that better prepare them for the mental challenges of combat. They should rehearse exactly what words they will use to report an initial contact and what guidance they anticipate issuing in the opening moments of a battle. These drills create neural circuitry that is familiar to the brain when the actual event happens, thus making it easier to execute with calm and confidence.

These drills serve as a personal routine that primes the individual to control stress, sense subconscious patterns, engage cognitive problem solving, and lead with emotional control. Then, by adding the element of physical danger or stress to the scenario, leaders can adapt to perform the cognitive thinking despite emotional distraction. David Rock notes, “People who succeed under pressure have learned to be in a place of high arousal but maintain a quiet mind, so that they can still think clearly. Over time and with practice, this capacity can become an automatic resource. The brain can be wired to deal better with emotions.” This adaptation will develop mental fitness for leaders that may prove to be crucial in the unit’s future battles.

Leaders must learn where they should position themselves on the battlefield to facilitate their cognitive responsibilities. Despite mission, terrain, or movement technique, leaders must discern what position allows them to survey all aspects of the fight.[55] As much as possible, they should directly observe their soldiers and get information real time without compromising their ability to keep a macro view. Conversely, soldiers expect to see their leaders at the proverbial “front” and cannot respect leaders who are never among them. Finding this balance is part of what makes leadership an art.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Voters Have Surprisingly Strong Feelings About Bombing Aladdin’s Homeland of Agrabah.

- Alex Griswold

Sunday, December 20, 2015

What I've Been Reading

Active open-mindness (AOM) is a concept coined by the psychologist Jonathan Baron. For super forecasters, beliefs are hypothesis to be tested, not treasures to be guarded. It would be facile to reduce superforecasting to a number-sticker, but if I had to, that would be it. 

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner. Undoubtedly, the best book of 2015; every pages tons to wisdom that would help us develop probabilistic thinking. I was and is a participant of Good Judgement Project; albeit being mostly a passive player, I learned so much from the experience. If you haven't read this book, please read it now. 
Superforecasting demands thinking that is open-minded, careful, curious, and above all self-critical. It also demands focus. The kind of thinking that produces superior judgment does not come effortlessly. Only the determined can deliver it reasonably consistently, which is why our analyses have consistently found commitment to self-improvement to be the strongest predictor of performance.


A forecaster who doesn't adjust her views in light of new information won't capture the value of that information, while a forecaster who is so impressed by the new information that he bases his forecast entirely on it will lose the value of the old information that underpinned his prior forecast. But a forecaster who carefully balances old and new captures the value in both and puts it into her forecast. The best way to do that is by updating often but bit by bit.


The strongest predictor of rising into the ranks of superforecasters is perpetual beta, the degree to which one is committed to belief updating and self-improvement. It is roughly three times as powerful a predictor as its closest rival, intelligence.


You should move to a small town, somewhere the rule of law still exists. You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.

One of the best movies I have seen this year; splendid performance by Benicio Del Toro & Emily Blunt. Watch this movie this holiday season to realize how lucky we are to live in places were "better angles of our nature" (temporarily) outshines the prominent demons of our nature.

Quote of the Day

You have to work with people who make you feel insecure. Because you are working with people better than you.

- Sundar Pichai

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

Concentration and mindfulness are distinctly different functions. They each have their role to play in meditation, and the relationship between them is definite and delicate. Concentration is often called one-pointedness of mind. It consists of forcing the mind to remain on one static point. Please note the word force. Concentration is pretty much a forced type of activity. It can be developed by force, by sheer unremitting willpower. And once developed, it retains some of that forced flavor. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a delicate function leading to refined sensibilities. These two are partners in the job of meditation. Mindfulness is the sensitive one. It notices things. Concentration provides the power. It keeps the attention pinned down to one item. Ideally, mindfulness is in this relationship. Mindfulness picks the objects of attention, and notices when the attention has gone astray. Concentration does the actual work of holding the attention steady on that chosen object. If either of these partners is weak, your meditation goes astray.

Concentration could be defined as that faculty of the mind that focuses single-pointedly on one object without interruption. It must be emphasized that true concentration is a wholesome one-pointedness of mind. That is, the state is free from greed, hatred, and delusion. Unwholesome one-pointedness is also possible, but it will not lead to liberation. You can be very single-minded in a state of lust. But that gets you nowhere. Uninterrupted focus on something that you hate does not help you at all. In fact, such unwholesome concentration is fairly short-lived even when it is achieved— especially when it is used to harm others. True concentration itself is free from such contaminants. It is a state in which the mind is gathered together and thus gains power and intensity. We might use the analogy of a lens. Parallel waves of sunlight falling on a piece of paper will do no more than warm the surface. But if that same amount of light, when focused through a lens, falls on a single point, the paper bursts into flames. Concentration is the lens. It produces the burning intensity necessary to see into the deeper reaches of the mind. Mindfulness selects the object that the lens will focus on and looks through the lens to see what is there.

Concentration should be regarded as a tool. Like any tool, it can be used for good or for ill. A sharp knife can be used to create a beautiful carving or to harm someone. It is all up to the one who uses the knife. Concentration is similar. Properly used, it can assist you toward liberation. But it can also be used in the service of the ego. It can operate in the framework of achievement and competition. You can use concentration to dominate others. You can use it to be selfish. The real problem is that concentration alone will not give you a perspective on yourself. It won’t throw light on the basic problems of selfishness and the nature of suffering. It can be used to dig down into deep psychological states. But even then, the forces of egotism won’t be understood. Only mindfulness can do that. If mindfulness is not there to look into the lens and see what has been uncovered, then it is all for nothing. Only mindfulness understands. Only mindfulness brings wisdom.

- Concentration vs. Mindfulness via every fascinating Farnam Street

Quote of the Day

Learning how to think really means learning to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

2005 Kenyon Commencement Address by David Foster Wallace

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What I've Been Reading

Just as clean air makes respiration possible, silence, in this broader sense, is what makes it possible to think. We give it up willingly when we are in the company of other people with whom we have some relationship, and when we open ourselves to serendipitous encounters with strangers. To be addressed by mechanized means is an entirely different matter.

To attend to anything in a sustained way requires actively excluding all the other things that grab at our attention. It requires, if not ruthlessness toward oneself, a capacity for self-regulation.

The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew B. Crawford. I was totally surprised reading this lesser know book; Crawford gives Nicholas Carr run for this money. A gem of book - "Cognitive Extension" is the recurring theme of the book which he delivers through analogies of racing, organ makers (yes, did you know they cost over a million bucks and are handmade?) and other "lesser" known crafts.

There is a very real sense in which a tool may be integrated into one’s body, for one who has become expert in using the tool. There is a growing number of studies that support this idea of “cognitive extension”; the new capacities added by tools and prosthetics become indistinguishable from those of the natural human body, in terms of how they are treated by the brain that organizes our actions and perceptions.
Surprisingly, it is in the field of robotics that some of the most convincing evidence has emerged that inference, calculation, and representation are a grossly inefficient way to go about negotiating a physical environment. In his now-classic article “Intelligence Without Representation,” published in the journal Artificial Intelligence in 1991, Rodney Brooks wrote that “the world is its own best model.” Roboticists are learning a lesson that evolution learned long ago, namely, that the task of solving problems needn’t be accomplished solely by the brain, but can be distributed among the brain, the body, and the world.
In a variation on the old funk dictum, we might say, “Involve your ass, your mind will follow.” And conversely, “Free your ass, your mind will wander.” I suspect John Muir is right with his image of the Aztec hood ornament: having some skin in the game would seem to be an important safety variable.
In a culture predicated on this autonomy-heteronomy distinction, it is difficult to think clearly about attention— the faculty that joins us to the world— because everything located outside your head is regarded as a potential source of unfreedom, and therefore a threat to the self. This makes education a tricky matter.

Quote of the Day

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.

- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What I've Been Reading

In non linear systems-and the economy is most certainly nonlinear-chaos theory tells you that the slightest uncertainty in your knowledge of the initial conditions will often grow inexorably. After a while, your predictions are nonsense.

Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos by M. Mitchell Waldrop. I read this book last summer but was thinking for past four months on what to write. Still date, I have no idea how to summarize the importance of this book.

This is an unofficial biography of Santa Fe Institute - I learned so much from this book that it will me many life times to work on those ideas. This is one book, I have to re-read every few years.

“Here was this elusive "Santa Fe approach": Instead of emphasizing decreasing returns, static equilibrium, and perfect rationality, as in the neoclassical view, the Santa Fe team would emphasize increasing returns, bounded rationality, and the dynamics of evolution and learning. Instead of basing their theory on assumptions that were mathematically convenient, they would try to make models that were psychologically realistic. Instead of viewing the economy as some kind of Newtonian machine, they would see it as something organic, adaptive, surprising, and alive. Instead of talking about the world as if it were a static thing buried deep in the frozen regime, as Chris Langton might have put it, they would learn how to think about the world as a dynamic, ever-changing system poised at the edge of chaos.” 

Quote of the Day

All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For after all, he was only human. He wasn't a dog.

- Charles M. Schulz

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Quote of the Day

I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who.

- Rudyard Kipling

Monday, December 14, 2015

What I've Been Reading

We can be too quick to blurt out what we believe are the correct answers, when more value can be gained by searching for a better question. A questioning mentality is far more effective than a knowing mentality.

Pebbles of Perception: How a Few Good Choices make All the Difference by Laurence Endersen. Short but gem of a book; if you haven't read Poor Charlie's Almanac then this is a good place to start.

Why not make a conscious decision to learn something new every day? No matter how small the daily learning, it is significant when aggregated over a lifetime. Resolving early in life to have a continuous learning mindset is not only more interesting than the passive alternative, it is also remarkably powerful. Choosing lifelong learning is one of the few good choices that can make a big difference in our lives, giving us an enormous advantage when practised over a long period of time.

Quote of the Day

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.

- Alan Cohen

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What I've Been Reading

The greatest benefit of machine learning may ultimately be be not what the machine learns but what we can learn by teaching them.

The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World by Pedro Domingos.

A must read for students, decision makers and public in general. Although Professor Domingos explains the algorithms as interpretable as possible, it's not an easy read especially the middle chapters. Having said that this is the only popular book available for public to enlighten themselves on machine learning. I have personally struggled for the past couple of years learning machine learning via hard math based books or small but brilliant blog posts. I wish Professor Domingos wrote this book earlier.

And finally, according to him; this is one plausible version of the Master Algorithm:

Let's use the name Alchemy to refer to our candidate universal leaner for simplicity. Alchemy addresses Hume's original question by having another input besides the data: your initial knowledge, in the form of set of logical  formulas, with or without weights. The formula can be inconsistent, incomplete, or even just plain wrong; the learning and probabilistic reasoning will take care of that. The key point is that Alchemy doesn't have to learn from scratch. In fact, we can even tell Alchemy to keep the formulas unchanged and learn only the weights. In this case, giving Alchemy the appropriate formulas can turn it into a Boltzmann machine, a Bayesian network, an instance-based learner, and many other models. This explains why we can have a universal learner despite the "no free lunch" theorem. Rather, Alchemy is like an inductive Turing machine, which we can program to behave as a very powerful or a very restricted learner; it's up to us. Alchemy provides a unifier for machine learning in the same way that the internet provides one for computer networks, the relational model for databases, or the graphical user interface for everyday applications. 

Quote of the Day

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.

- Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

Yesterday, Thomas Schelling gave a seminar on climate change here at the Center for Study of Public Choice. Schelling’s main argument was that lots of resources are going into predicting and understanding climate change but very little thought or resources are going into planning for adaptation.

If Washington, DC, Boston and Manhattan are to remain dry, for example, we are almost certainly going to need flood control efforts on the level of the Netherlands. It takes twenty years just to come up with a plan and figure out how to pay for these kinds of projects let alone to actually implement them so it’s not too early to beginning planning for adaptation even if we don’t expect to need these adaptations for another forty or fifty years. So far, however, nothing is being done. Climate deniers think planning for adaptation is a waste and many climate change proponents think planning for adaptation is giving up.

Schelling mentioned a few bold ideas. We can protect every city on the Mediterranean from Marseilles to Alexandria to Tel Aviv or we could dam the Strait of Gibraltar. Damming the strait would be the world’s largest construction project–by far–yet by letting the Mediterranean evaporate somewhat it could also generate enough hydro-electric power to replace perhaps all of the fossil fuel stations in Europe and Africa.

Schelling didn’t mention it but in the 1920s German engineer Herman Sörgel  proposed such a project calling it Atlantropa (more here). In addition to power, damming the strait would open up a huge swath of valuable land. Gene Roddenberry and Phillip K. Dick were fans but needless to say the idea never got very far. A cost-benefit analysis, however, might show that despite the difficulty, damming the strait would be cheaper than trying to save Mediterranean cities one by one. But, as Schelling argued, no one is thinking seriously about these issues.

I argued that capital depreciates so even many of our buildings, the longest-lived capital, will need to be replaced anyway. Here, for example, is a map showing the age of every building in New York City. A large fraction, though by no means all, are less than one hundred years old. If we let the areas most under threat slowly deteriorate the cost of moving inland won’t be as high as one might imagine–at least if the water rises slowly (not guaranteed!). Schelling agreed that this was the case for private structures but he doubted that we would be willing to let the White House go.

If we are going to save cities, especially buildings not yet built, should we not start taxing land today that is under threat of future flood? Act now to mitigate future moral hazard problems.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

To earn the trust of your meditation, you have to visit it every day. It’s like having a puppy.

– Chelsea Richer

Friday, December 11, 2015

Learn To Code, It's Harder Than You Think

Even programmers with CS degrees insist that they are largely self taught. Others complained that it was a hard question to answer since the rate of change in the industry means that you never stop learning. So even if you did at some point have formal training, you can’t rely on that for a successful career. Any formal course will be just a small element of the continual learning that defines the career of a programmer.

We are left with a very strange and unexpected situation. Formal education for programmers seems not to work very well and yet the majority of those who are successful programmers are mostly self taught. On the one hand we seem to have people who don’t need any guided education to give them a successful career; they are perfectly capable of learning their trade from the vast sea of online resources available to anyone who wants to use it. On the other hand we have people who seem unable to learn to code even with years of formal training.
This rather puts the lie to the barriers to entry argument. If the majority of current professional software developers are self taught, how can there be barriers to entry? Anyone with access to the internet can learn to code if they have the aptitude for it.

The evidence points to a very obvious conclusion: there are two populations: one that finds programming a relatively painless and indeed enjoyable thing to learn and another that can’t learn no matter how good the teaching. The elephant in the room, the thing that Yvette Cooper, the ‘year of code’ or ‘hour of code’ people seem unwilling to admit is that programming is a very high aptitude task. It is not one that ‘anyone can learn’, and it is not easy, or rather it is easy, but only if you have the aptitude for it. The harsh fact is that most people will find it impossible to get to any significant standard.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.

- Seneca

Thursday, December 10, 2015

When Can Quantum Annealing Win?

We found that for problem instances involving nearly 1000 binary variables, quantum annealing significantly outperforms its classical counterpart, simulated annealing. It is more than 10**8 times faster than simulated annealing running on a single core. We also compared the quantum hardware to another algorithm called Quantum Monte Carlo. This is a method designed to emulate the behavior of quantum systems, but it runs on conventional processors. While the scaling with size between these two methods is comparable, they are again separated by a large factor sometimes as high as 10**8.

While these results are intriguing and very encouraging, there is more work ahead to turn quantum enhanced optimization into a practical technology. The design of next generation annealers must facilitate the embedding of problems of practical relevance. For instance, we would like to increase the density and control precision of the connections between the qubits as well as their coherence. Another enhancement we wish to engineer is to support the representation not only of quadratic optimization, but of higher order optimization as well. This necessitates that not only pairs of qubits can interact directly but also larger sets of qubits. Our quantum hardware group is working on these improvements which will make it easier for users to input hard optimization problems. For higher-order optimization problems, rugged energy landscapes will become typical. Problems with such landscapes stand to benefit from quantum optimization because quantum tunneling makes it easier to traverse tall and narrow energy barriers.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

There is as much difference between us and ourselves as there is between us and others.

- Michel de Montaigne

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Quantifiable Theory of Humor - What Makes the Writer's Work so Funny

The theory gets its inspiration from two decidedly un-funny sources: the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, and math.

Schopenhauer is better known for establishing a philosophy called “Pessimism” than theorizing on the principles of humor. But he apparently did find time to jot down some thoughts on comedy, among them, the idea that things are funny when they violate our expectations. This idea, termed “incongruity theory,” explains why people laugh at puns and the sight of a dozen clowns clambering out of a teeny, tiny car — both defy what we expect to hear or see.

This probably held true for funny words too. An unusual non-word like “snunkoople” or Dr. Seuss’s “yuzz-a-ma-tuzz” would be more likely to make people laugh than one that sounds like it could almost be real, like “clester.”

But Westbury and his psychologist colleagues had no way of quantifying incongruity, so they borrowed one from mathematics: Shannon entropy. Theformula, developed by information theorist Claude Shannon, will make your head spin more than a Dr. Seuss run-on-sentence, but the gist is that it quantified how much entropy, or disorder, is contained within a message. Words with unusual or improbable letter combinations — “snunkoople,” “yuzz-a-ma-tuzz,” “oobleck,” “truffula,” “sneetch” (the last four are all Seuss-isms) — are more disordered, and therefore, Westbury hypothesized, funnier.


Even though, according to Westbury, this is the first time a theory like this has been applied to humor, it’s actually not such a radical notion. As far back as the 1920s, researchers have known that there’s a sort of innate sense to the way words work. For example, when asked to match the words “kiki” and “bouba” with shapes, people assign the first to a spiky shape and the latter to a curvy one. This is true whether they’re American undergraduate students or Tamil-speakers in India or toddlers who can’t even read yet. All humans, regardless of their native language, are born with certain expectations for how things should sound.

And when words defy our expectations, Westbury explained in the press release, it makes sense that we respond with laughter.

“Organisms that could separate benign violations from real threats benefited greatly,” McGraw said. By laughing, humans can “signal to the world that a violation is indeed OK.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Reasoning can take us to almost any conclusion we want to reach, because we ask “Can I believe it?” when we want to believe something, but “Must I believe it?” when we don’t want to believe. The answer is almost always yes to the first question and no to the second.

- Jon Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

One Man Who Has Saved Over 30,000 Dogs From Kill Shelters

How did you get involved in this?

Zheutlin: In 2012 after many years of resistance, I agreed with my wife to get a dog and we adopted Albie, a Lab mix, from Louisiana. Greg drove him north. Greg documents every trip on Facebook and I got interested in what he does. He seemed to so happy in this work. I wanted to understand more about the plight of dogs such as Albie and thought Greg might be the gateway into the whole world of canine rescue. So I rode along with Greg for two days in 2013 to write a story about him for Parade Magazine and that article evolved into the book. In sum, it was my curiosity about my own dog, and how he came to us that started it…I wanted to know whose hands and hearts were extended to get him to us.

Did you travel a lot with Greg while researching your book?

Zheutlin: Yes, in all I traveled about 7,000 miles with Greg and made other trips down south to learn about the many other people involved in rescuing dogs. Greg is the first person to point out that he is just one cog in the wheel and that as the man who unites the dogs with their families he gets to do the happy work. There are many others portrayed in the book who are invisible even to adopters who do incredibly hard, heart-wrenching work and sacrifice enormously to save these dogs.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Yes,I'm afraid you're right. Trial and error isn't a bad way to learn how to build an aircraft,but it can be a disastrous way to learn how to build a civilization.

- Daniel Quinn

Monday, December 7, 2015

Quote of the Day

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.

- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Let Math Save Our Democracy

Here’s where the average-median difference comes in. Across all 30 districts in Arizona State Senate races, the Democrats won an average of 46.1 percent of the vote. The median outcome was 42.8 percent. The median Democratic vote share was less than the average by 3.3 percentage points, a direction that slightly benefited Republicans — the opposite of the plaintiffs’ contention. By well-established statistical criteria, even this difference could have arisen by chance, rather than partisan intent. In State House races, the difference was an even smaller gap of 1.7 percentage points. Over all, Democrats won 39 percent of all state legislative seats. If the commission was trying to show special favor to Democrats, it did a poor job.

I have come up with additional tests to identify other consequences of gerrymandering. One is to ask whether one party’s winning margins are more lopsided than the other side’s. For example, in the Pennsylvania congressional election of 2012, Democrats won only 5 out of 18 congressional House seats, despite winning slightly more than half of the statewide vote. Democratic winners garnered an average of 76 percent of the vote, while Republican winners won 59 percent. Statistically speaking, this 17-point difference would arise by chance less than 1 percent of the time.

Simple criteria for identifying gerrymanders would be of great use. The Supreme Court has never rejected a voting district for giving a political party an advantage. Justice Antonin Scalia has previously attempted to shut the door on questions of partisan gerrymandering, pointing out that legal battles have “almost invariably produced the same result (except for the incurring of lawyers’ fees).”

A majority of the court, however, supports the idea of finding a test that measures partisan asymmetry. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who in the past has provided the deciding vote on this question, has stated his desire to find a workable means of identifying partisan gerrymanders. Either the average-median difference or the lopsided-margin test could serve such a function. Justice Kennedy can have them both.

Statistical tests can be used by courts to throw out meritless cases while freeing up time for investigation of true offenses. These tests can supplement other existing legal mandates, such as Ohio’s recently passed requirement for districts to be geographically compact. Conversely, the tests allow oddly shaped district boundaries, which are sometimes needed to comply with Voting Rights Act requirements. My tests can also be combined with sophisticated methods for examining single districts in detail. Finally, a statewide statistical approach might even be used to test proposed plans before they go into effect.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.

- Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

Training for combat is about changing the brain. Decades of neuroscience research have firmly shown that the brain is highly adaptable and that repeated activities designed to create specific behaviors—like combat training—literally “change cellular structure and strength of connections between neurons.”At the rifleman level, training teaches soldiers to respond reflexively to situations that demand a spontaneous conditioned response, such as engaging an enemy fighter at close range. It is the same behavioral process that professional athletes apply to develop the fine-tuned motor skills needed in competition.

This learning process also applies to activities that demand higher cognitive ability, such as detailed planning for a combat operation or reacting to a complex attack. A way to train this capability would be to construct an exercise that requires leaders to undergo physical or fear-induced stress and then perform deliberate, time-constrained planning for an ambiguous situation. This could be a simple puzzle-solving activity or a complicated vignette-based planning exercise that incorporates combat systems. This “cognitive stress shoot” would allow leaders to discover their personal responses to stress and identify useful techniques to overcome the cognitive disabilities associated with it.

Units should also structure training to present multiple streams of information and detectable patterns of enemy activity that will teach leaders what to look for. Historical battle accounts reveal that small changes in the environment, like a lack of regular street activity, can sound subconscious alarms. Constructing patterns in training and then altering them can teach leaders to listen to their hunches and be extra vigilant when “something doesn’t feel right.” Incorporating collateral battlefield elements, like a civilian populace, challenges leaders to cognitively analyze the situation and think beyond the battle drill.

On the individual level, leaders should develop personal cognitive battle drills that better prepare them for the mental challenges of combat. They should rehearse exactly what words they will use to report an initial contact and what guidance they anticipate issuing in the opening moments of a battle. These drills create neural circuitry that is familiar to the brain when the actual event happens, thus making it easier to execute with calm and confidence.

These drills serve as a personal routine that primes the individual to control stress, sense subconscious patterns, engage cognitive problem solving, and lead with emotional control. Then, by adding the element of physical danger or stress to the scenario, leaders can adapt to perform the cognitive thinking despite emotional distraction. David Rock notes, “People who succeed under pressure have learned to be in a place of high arousal but maintain a quiet mind, so that they can still think clearly. Over time and with practice, this capacity can become an automatic resource. The brain can be wired to deal better with emotions.” This adaptation will develop mental fitness for leaders that may prove to be crucial in the unit’s future battles.

Leaders must learn where they should position themselves on the battlefield to facilitate their cognitive responsibilities. Despite mission, terrain, or movement technique, leaders must discern what position allows them to survey all aspects of the fight.[55] As much as possible, they should directly observe their soldiers and get information real time without compromising their ability to keep a macro view. Conversely, soldiers expect to see their leaders at the proverbial “front” and cannot respect leaders who are never among them. Finding this balance is part of what makes leadership an art.

What Combat Leaders Need to Know About Neuroscience

Quote of the Day

Friday, December 4, 2015

Quote of the Day

I see psychoanalysis, art and biology ultimately coming together, just like cognitive psychology and neuroscience have merged.

- Eric Kandel

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Robert Trivers Wild Life - A Documentary on His Life

Quote of the Day

The fuel on which science runs is ignorance. Science is like a hungry furnace that must be fed logs from the forests of ignorance that surround us. In the process, the clearing we call knowledge expands, but the more it expands, the longer its perimeter and the more ignorance comes into view.

- Matt Ridley, Genome: the Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Wading Through the Hype about CRISPR

George Church, a CRISPR pioneer from Harvard University sees possible paths from these legitimate uses to more dubious ones. “I think enhancement will creep in the door in terms of treating serious diseases,” he says. Someone who is losing their faculties to Alzheimer’s disease might turn to gene-editing to stem their cognitive decline. “Then, someone younger with a super high risk of the disease. Then, a business executive who wants to get ahead of the game. Then that same executive who wants to fix his sperm cells.”

But gene-editing might be totally impractical for fixing common diseases, because they are typically influenced by legions of genes. If you took people with the highest risk of, say, schizophrenia, you’d probably need to CRISPR thousands of genes to bring their odds back down to average levels. That’s a terrible idea, for reasons we’ll get to.

The same is true for attributes like intelligence, height, sporting ability, or personality traits, which involve small contributions from thousands of genes, and a massive dollop of environmental influence on the side. “The dishes do not come à la carte,” writes Nathaniel Comfort, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “If you believe that made-to-order babies are possible, you oversimplify how genes work.”

So, no matter how precisely we can edit genes, there are some things we won’t be able to edit our way out of—and certainly not safely. Genes rarely do one thing. Those thousands of edits will ripple through the body in unexpected ways. For example, deleting the CCR5 gene would make people resistant to HIV, but also make them 13 times more likely to die of West Nile virus. Tweaking their FUT2 gene might make them less likely to develop Type 1 diabetes but also make them vulnerable to norovirus.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.

- Isaac Asimov, Foundation

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Quote of the Day

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school . . . it is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.

- Hentry David Thoreau

Monday, November 30, 2015

Closed Minds on Campus

Any insistence otherwise is religious. The term is unavoidable here. When intelligent people openly declare that logic applies only to the extent that it corresponds to doctrine and shoot down serious questions with buzzwords and disdain, we are dealing with a faith. As modern as these protests seem, in their way, they return the American university to its original state as a divinity school—where exegesis of sacred texts was sincerely thought of as intellection, with skepticism treated as heresy.

The impression that race-related positions are elementary tenets long resolved explains the “safe space” concept so often bandied about at universities today. Commentators harrumph that students who insist on this brand of safety are merely “whining,” but they miss the point; these students assume that any views on race and racism counter to theirs genuinely qualify as benighted and toxic. All of us seek “safety” from genuinely rancid views—how many of us would stay at a party where someone dominated the conversation with overtly racist bloviations? These students have merely overextended the bounds of the conclusively intolerable.


There are useful points in the students’ demands: Historical figures as especially bigoted as Wilson and John C. Calhoun should not have their names on college buildings; student organizations displaying openly racist behavior should not be a part of a college campus experience.

But where the protesters’ proposition is “If I am offended, I am correct,” the proper response is, quite simply, “No.” This and only this constitutes true respect for these students’ dignity. It isn’t an easy answer. The naysayer will be called a racist (or self-hating) on social media and on campus for months. However, adults who know that their resistance to mob ideology is based on logic and compassion will survive emotionally. Of course, such people fear for their jobs. But a true university culture will resist sacrificing professors or administrators who are advocates of reason on the altar of convenient pieties.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

- Oliver Sacks, Gratitude

Sunday, November 29, 2015

How One Man Made The Leap From Artificial Intelligence To Saxophone

Anton Schwartz abandoned his doctoral thesis on artificial intelligence in order to pursue a career in music.

Schwartz made the decision to leave academia after suffering from chronic fatigue.

This might seem like a drastic career change to most of us, but Schwartz doesn't look at it that way. The way he looks at it, he just consistently followed his passions.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. Soak it then in such trains of thoughts as, for example: Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible.

- Marcus Aurelius

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

And Centerville High is not alone. Last summer I had a conversation with some boys who attend one of the nation’s top prep schools, in New England. They reported the same thing: as white males, they are constantly on eggshells, afraid to speak up on any remotely controversial topic lest they be sent to the “equality police” (that was their term for the multicultural center). I probed to see if their fear extended  beyond the classroom. I asked them what they would do if there was a new student at their school, from, say Yemen. Would they feel free to ask the student questions about his or her country? No, they said, it’s too risky, a question could be perceived as offensive.

You might think that this is some sort of justice — white males have enjoyed positions of privilege for centuries, and now they are getting a taste of their own medicine. But these are children. And remember that most students who are in a victim group for one topic are in the “oppressor” group for another. So everyone is on eggshells sometimes; all students at Centerville High learn to engage with books, ideas, and people using the twin habits of defensive self-censorship and vindictive protectiveness.


The only hope for Centerville High — and for Yale — is to disrupt their repressively uniform moral matrices to make room for dissenting views. High schools and colleges that lack viewpoint diversity should make it their top priority. Race and gender diversity matter too, but if those goals are pursued in the ways that student activists are currently demanding, then political orthodoxy is likely to intensify. Schools that value freedom of thought should therefore actively seek out non-leftist faculty, and they should explicitly include viewpoint diversity and political diversity in all statements about diversity and discrimination. Parents and students who value freedom of thought should take viewpoint diversity into account when applying to colleges. Alumni should take it into account before writing any more checks.

The Yale problem refers to an unfortunate feedback loop: Once you allow victimhood culture to spread on your campus, you can expect ever more anger from students representing victim groups, coupled with demands for a deeper institutional commitment to victimhood culture, which leads inexorably to more anger, more demands, and more commitment. But the Yale problem didn’t start at Yale. It started in high school. As long as many of our elite prep schools are turning out students who have only known eggshells and anger, whose social cognition is limited to a single dimension of victims and victimizers, and who demand safe spaces and trigger warnings, it’s hard to imagine how any university can open students’ minds and prepare them to converse respectfully with people who don’t share their values. Especially when there are no adults around who don’t share their values.

- Jonathan Haidt on The Yale Problem Begins in High School

Quote of the Day

Never tell your problems to anyone...20% don't care and the other 80% are glad you have them.

- Lou Holtz

Friday, November 27, 2015

What I've Been Reading

Generations of men establish a growing mastery over the earth, but they are destined to become fossils in its soil. 

The Lessons of History by Will Durant.

I cannot think of anyone else who can write the entire history of Sapiens in 100 pages; a prefect cocktail if read with Yuval Noah Harari's new book Sapiens.

"Nevertheless, know history shows little alteration in conduct of mankind. The Greeks of Plato's time behaved very much like French of modern centuries; and the Romans behaved like the English. Means and instrumentalities change; motives and ends remain the same: to act or rest, to acquire or give, to fight or retreat, to seek association or privacy, to mate or reject, to offer or resent parental care. Nor does human nature alter as between classes: by and large the poor have the same impulses as the rich, with only less opportunity or skill to implement them. Nothing is clearer in history than the adoption by successful rebels of the methods they were accustomed to condemn in the forces they deposed."

Quote of the Day

No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

- CS Lewis

Thursday, November 26, 2015

CRISPR to Eliminate Malaria?

The mosquitoes have two important genetic additions. One is genes that manufacture antibodies whenever a female mosquito has a “blood meal.” Those antibodies bind to the parasite’s surface and halt its development. Yet normally, such an engineered mosquito would pass the genes only to exactly half its offspring, since there’s a 50 percent chance any chunk of DNA would come from its mate. And since the new genes probably don’t help a mosquito much, they’d quickly peter out in the wild.

That’s where CRISPR comes in. In a gene drive, components of the CRISPR system are added such that any normal gene gets edited and the genetic cargo is added to it as well. In James’s lab, practically all the mosquitoes ended up with the genetic addition, a result Esvelt calls “astounding.”

What worries Esvelt is that, in his opinion, the California researchers haven’t used strict enough safety measures. He says locked doors and closed cages aren’t enough. He wants them to install a genetic “reversal drive” so the change can be undone, if necessary. “An accidental release would be a disaster with potentially devastating consequences for public trust in science and especially gene-drive interventions,” he says. “No gene-drive intervention must ever be released without popular support.”

James says the experiment was safe since the mosquitoes are kept behind a series of locked, card-entry doors and because they aren’t native to California. If any escaped, they wouldn’t be able to reproduce.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

I would not question the sincerity of vegetarians who take little interest in Animal Liberation because they give priority to other causes; but when nonvegetarians say that "human problems come first" I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for human beings that compels them to continue to support the wasteful, ruthless exploitation of farm animals.

- Peter Singer

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Quote of the Day

If you seek authenticity for authenticity’s sake you are no longer authentic.

- Jean Paul Sartre

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Quote of the Day

Being sad with the right people is better than being happy with the wrong ones.

-  Philippos

Monday, November 23, 2015

Quote of the Day

Retire into yourself as much as possible. Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one. People learn as they teach.

- Seneca

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Quote of the Day

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

 -Mark Twain

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

With the assumption that early human hunter-gatherer societies have been fairly egalitarian, Hayek seems in agreement with many anthropologists. Indeed, this feature has recently been explained by Christopher Boehm in his book Hierarchy in the Forest (1999) by the ability of the small bands to spontaneously form coalitions among their members. Through these coalitions, weaker members were able to block stronger individuals when they attempted to gain dominance and to subdue other members. Given the importance of this ability for upholding within-group cooperation, egalitarian preferences that make it easier to form blocking coalitions may well have implied a reproductive advantage at the group level. Over thousands of generations of human existence in hunter-gatherer bands these preferences may therefore have been selected for and may have entered the genetic endowment still present in modern humans as Hayek argued. But are egalitarian preferences indeed dysfunctional today when they induce people to endorse income redistribution in modern capitalist economies?

I think in a broader view on human history we find reason to assume that this is not true. History did not jump from the early hunter-gatherer societies to the conditions of the Medieval Mediterranean city states in which Hayek identifies the nucleus of the extended order of the markets of today. There are some ten to twelve thousand years in between during which agriculture unfolded and drove out hunter gatherers. The new production method resulted in serendipity and population growth. Group size increased far beyond that of the hunter-gatherer bands, making the spontaneous formation of blocking coalitions more difficult. Further, the necessary accumulation of capital in the form of harvested stock, livestock, dwellings etc. became a source of increasingly unequal personal wealth. Huge wealth differences facilitate attempts of individuals or families to gain dominance within their groups. Anti-blocking coalitions can be formed by buying allies.

As a matter of historical fact, in place of the rather egalitarian and participatory organization of human society, agriculture brought hierarchically stratified social formations. With them dominance and subordination, the characteristics of the social interactions of our primate ancestors, returned albeit in despotic and more cruel forms, including slavery and feudal villeinage. Thus, during the agricultural phase, human society took a road to serfdom in a literal, not the fictitious, sense which Hayek feared Western societies would be moving down in the 20th century, driven by a mislead egalitarianism. For that reason, the lesson to be learned from the road to serfdom actually taken in human history is not about how income redistribution threatens liberties that have been gained after a long struggle against feudal tutelage and suppression. To the contrary, it is a lesson about how the extreme income and wealth inequality of emerging despotism and feudalism have demolished the political organization of participatory societies and the personal liberties of their members.

In this light, the American Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution can be seen as mile stones at which the human kind reclaimed at least in some regions of the world a fairly egalitarian participatory formation. Under the conditions of modern capitalism it is no longer one akin to small bands with their spontaneously forming blocking coalitions. It is a much bigger and more anonymous formation in which individual freedom and egalitarian participation are upheld by institutional rules of the game characterized by checks and balances. But the rules and the checks and balances still need to be stabilized by the formation of coalitions capable of blocking claims to dominance and supremacy of small but powerful other coalitions. Their power grows more as the more extreme inequalities in the wealth distribution become and make it possible, like in the unfortunate past, to bribe and turn around members of blocking coalitions. With our innate egalitarian sentiments we may intuitively feel that income redistribution is not subversive to liberty, but a necessary condition for safeguarding it.

Coming back to the question in the heading: how should Hayek be seen, after all, as an intellectual hero or an ideologue? In my (European) view, the answer would be: Under the historical condition which Hayek developed his liberal social philosophy, his courageous opposition to a fashionable, pro-socialist Zeitgeist made him an outstanding intellectual. However, as I tried to point out, he misunderstood or did not wish to understand the role of income redistribution in a free society. Instead, his continued crusading against allegedly atavistic ideals of material equality puts income redistribution at par with socialist irrationalism. This one-sided interpretation paved the way for his arguments to be over-simplified for political partisanship in the United States. Hayek’s new adherents fail to account for his intellectual stature and make him appear post mortem like an ideologue.

Friedrich Hayek. Intellectual Hero or Ideologue?