Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What’s Wrong With Standard Models of Intelligence

Is stupidity the opposite of intelligence?

No. There’s actually a whole taxonomy of concepts that are worth thinking about. So there’s intelligence, there’s genius, there’s stupidity, there’s ignorance, and there’s being wrong. And it’s worth unpacking what each of these might mean.
Ignorance is insufficient data. So it doesn’t matter how smart you are; if you don’t have enough data to solve a problem, you’ll never solve it.

Intelligence is finding very simple solutions to complex problems. For example, if you say to someone, “You made that look effortless!” you’re saying to them, “You’re smart.” If you say to someone, “You made that look really hard,” you’re saying, “That’s stupid.” So stupidity is using a rule where adding more data doesn’t improve your chances of getting it right; in fact, it makes it more likely that you get it wrong.

So being wrong has in common with ignorance the fact that you’re more likely to get it right when you get extra data. So stupidity is a very interesting class of phenomena in history and it has to do with rule systems that have made it harder for us to arrive at the truth, and we could talk about it.

It’s an interesting fact that while there are numerous individuals who study intelligence—there are whole departments that are interested in it—if you were to ask yourself what’s the greatest problem facing the world today, I would say it would be stupidity.
So we should have professors of Stupidity; it would just be embarrassing to be called the Stupid Professor!

- Read the full interview with David Krakauer here

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tolerant Dogs & Aggressive Wolves

Full paper here; abstract:

Cooperation is thought to be highly dependent on tolerance. For example, it has been suggested that dog-human cooperation has been enabled by selecting dogs for increased tolerance and reduced aggression during the course of domestication ('emotional reactivity hypothesis'). However, based on observations of social interactions among members of captive packs, a few dog-wolf comparisons found contradictory results. In this study, we compared intraspecies aggression and tolerance of dogs and wolves raised and kept under identical conditions by investigating their agonistic behaviours and cofeeding during pair-wise food competition tests, a situation that has been directly linked to cooperation. We found that in wolves, dominant and subordinate members of the dyads monopolized the food and showed agonistic behaviours to a similar extent, whereas in dogs these behaviours were privileges of the high-ranking individuals. The fact that subordinate dogs rarely challenged their higher-ranking partners suggests a steeper dominance hierarchy in dogs than in wolves. Finally, wolves as well as dogs showed only rare and weak aggression towards each other. Therefore, we suggest that wolves are sufficiently tolerant to enable wolf-wolf cooperation, which in turn might have been the basis for the evolution of dog-human cooperation (canine cooperation hypothesis).

Quote of the Day

When anyone tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived or that the fact which he relates should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other and according to the superiority which I discover, I pronounce my decision. Always I reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates, then and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

- David Hume

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Joy of Doing

The secret of happiness is in knowing this: that we live by the law of expenditure. We find greatest joy, not in getting, but in expressing what we are. There are tides in the ocean of life, and what comes in depends on what goes out. The currents flow inward only where there is an outlet. Nature does not give to those who will not spend; her gifts are loaned to those who will use them. Empty your lungs and breathe. Run, climb, work, and laugh; the more you give out, the more you shall receive. Be exhausted, and you shall be fed. Men do not really live for honors or for pay; their gladness is not in the taking and holding, but in the doing, the striving, the building, the living. It is a higher joy to teach than to be taught. It is good to get justice, but better to do it; fun to have things, but more to make them. The happy man is he who lives the life of love, not for the honors it may bring, but for the life itself.

- Undiscovered country;: Morning thoughts to brace the spirit of the common man by Raymond John Baughan  (via here)

Quote of the Day

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How Can I Go About Understanding the Math in Nassim Taleb's Technical Papers?

A great answer to this great question @ Quora:

Taleb uses fairly advanced math, especially Analysis, Probability and Statistics. So the first step would be to crack up a book on university-level analysis theory and building on that. Exercise are not dispensable, since that’s when you will internalize the concepts that you are presented. Merely reading about them is not enough, you have to handle them to really get a grasp on what they mean.

I would like to tell you that you can make do without studying things like linear algebra, which seem at first a bit distant from analysis, but unfortunately, they are absolutely crucial in understanding probability theory, so you’ll have to do that as well. Mathematics is a discipline in which you become knowledgeable by making yours a lot of intermediary concepts. It’s a fascinating journey, but there are no shortcuts. Good luck.

Quote of the Day

Every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.

-  Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

In the 1990s, no academic could sell a message about lowered serotonin. There was no correlation between serotonin reuptake inhibiting potency and antidepressant efficacy. No one knew if SSRIs raised or lowered serotonin levels; they still don’t know. There was no evidence that treatment corrected anything.

The role of persuading people to restore their serotonin levels to “normal” fell to the newly obligatory patient representatives and patient groups. The lowered serotonin story took root in the public domain rather than in psychopharmacology. This public serotonin was like Freud’s notion of libido—vague, amorphous, and incapable of exploration—a piece of biobabble. If researchers used this language it was in the form of a symbol referring to some physiological abnormality that most still presume will be found to underpin melancholia—although not necessarily primary care “depression.”

The myth co-opted the complementary health market. Materials from this source routinely encourage people to eat foods or engage in activities that will enhance their serotonin levels and in so doing they confirm the validity of using an antidepressant. The myth co-opts psychologists and others, who for instance attempt to explain the evolutionary importance of depression in terms of the function of the serotonin system. Journals and publishers take books and articles expounding such theories because of a misconception that lowered serotonin levels in depression are an established fact, and in so doing they sell antidepressants.

Above all the myth co-opted doctors and patients. For doctors it provided an easy short hand for communication with patients. For patients, the idea of correcting an abnormality has a moral force that can be expected to overcome the scruples some might have had about taking a tranquilliser, especially when packaged in the appealing form that distress is not a weakness.


Serotonin is not irrelevant. Just as with noradrenaline, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters, we can expect it to vary among individuals and expect some correlation with temperament and personality.There were pointers to a dimensional role for serotonin from the 1970s onwards, with research correlating lowered serotonin metabolite levels with impulsivity leading to suicidality, aggression, and alcoholism.As with the eclipse of cortisol, this research strand also ran into the sand; SSRIs lower serotonin metabolite levels in at least some people, and they are particularly ineffective in patient groups characterised by impulsivity (those with borderline personality traits).

This history raises a question about the weight doctors and others put on biological and epidemiological plausibility. Does a plausible (but mythical) account of biology and treatment let everyone put aside clinical trial data that show no evidence of lives saved or restored function? Do clinical trial data marketed as evidence of effectiveness make it easier to adopt a mythical account of biology? There are no published studies on this topic.

These questions are important. In other areas of life the products we use, from computers to microwaves, improve year on year, but this is not the case for medicines, where this year’s treatments may achieve blockbuster sales despite being less effective and less safe than yesterday’s models. The emerging sciences of the brain offer enormous scope to deploy any amount of neurobabble.We need to understand the language we use. Until then, so long, and thanks for all the serotonin.

- Serotonin & Depression

Quote of the Day

Because vision appears so effortless, we are like fish challenged to understand water.

- David Eagleman, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Vital Question: Why is life the way it is?


A must read new book by Nick Lane - The Vital Question: Why is life the way it is? and a great review here

Living cells are powered by a totally unexpected process. The energy from food is used to pump protons across a membrane to build up an electrochemical gradient. This gradient drives the machinery of life, like water from a dam driving a turbine.

And Lane argues that life has been powered by proton gradients from the very beginning. Forget all those primordial soups or "warm ponds": only the natural proton gradients found in undersea alkaline hydrothermal vents could have provided the continuous flux of carbon and energy that life requires. These vents may be common on rocky planets so, if this reasoning is correct, simple cells should be too.

It's the next step that is tricky. To become more complex, cells need more membrane to provide more energy. But the larger the area of membrane, the harder it is to keep control of the proton gradient – and losing control means death. So cells stayed simple. "There is no innate or universal trajectory towards complex life," Lane writes.

Not, at least, until something extraordinary happened: one kind of simple cell somehow started living inside another. Eventually, the first cell turned into the self-contained energy-producing structures we call mitochondria. This Russian-doll arrangement meant cells could get more energy simply by making more mitochondria, allowing them to become much larger and more complex.

But learning to live together was far from easy. The first complex cells were forced to evolve features such as sexual reproduction and DNA wrapped up in a membrane to survive. In other words, the acquisition of mitochondria wasn't just necessary for cells to become complex, it shaped their entire nature – and it still does. Our lifespans are determined by our mitochondria, Lane argues, but not because they produce free radicals, as we once thought.

It sometimes seems that there are few big ideas in biology any more, that it's all about specialists crunching data. But this is a book of vast scope and ambition, brimming with bold and important ideas. I do hope some of them are wrong, because it's disappointing to think that alien life consists mostly of slime, or that it will be very difficult to extend our lifespans beyond about 120 years.

Quote of the Day

What's the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?

- Henry David Thoreau, Familiar Letters

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Quote of the Day

I have had my mother's wing of my genetic ancestry analyzed by the National Geographic tracing service and there it all is: the arrow moving northward from the African savannah, skirting the Mediterranean by way of the Levant, and passing through Eastern and Central Europe before crossing to the British Isles. And all of this knowable by an analysis of the cells on the inside of my mouth.

I almost prefer the more rambling and indirect and journalistic investigation, which seems somehow less… deterministic.

- Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Quote of the Day

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow, and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune's control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.

- Seneca

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Quote of the Day

To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. All other things, ruling, hoarding, building, are only little appendages and props, at most.

-  Michel de Montaigne

Monday, April 20, 2015

Quote of the Day

Those who think money can't buy happiness just don't know where to shop … People would be happier and healthier if they took more time off and spent it with their family and friends, yet America has long been heading in the opposite direction. People would be happier if they reduced their commuting time, even if it meant living in smaller houses, yet American trends are toward even larger houses and ever longer commutes. People would be happier and healthier if they took longer vacations even if that meant earning less, yet vacation times are shrinking in the United States, and in Europe as well. People would be happier, and in the long run and wealthier, if they bought basic functional appliances, automobiles, and wristwatches, and invested the money they saved for future consumption; yet, Americans and in particular spend almost everything they have – and sometimes more – on goods for present consumption, often paying a large premium for designer names and superfluous features.

- Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Quote of the Day

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

- Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

The heart cannot be taught in a classroom intellectually, to students mechanically taking notes... Good, wise hearts are obtained through lifetimes of diligent effort to dig deeply within and heal lifetimes of scars.. You can't teach it or email it or tweet it. it has to be discovered within the depths of one's own heart when a person is finally ready to go looking for it, and not before.

The job of the wise person is to swallow the frustration and just go on setting an example of caring and digging and diligence in their own lives. What a wise person teaches is the smallest of what they give. The totality of their life, of the way they go about it in the smallest details, is what gets transmitted.

Never forget that. The message is the person, perfected over lifetimes of effort that was set in motion by yet another wise person now hidden from the recipient by the dim mists of time. Life is much bigger than we think, cause and effect intertwined in a vast moral structure that keeps pushing us to do better, become better, even when we dwell in the most most painful confused darkness.

Email to David Brooks from a veterinarian named Dave Jolly - Excerpts from the new book The Road to Character by David Brooks

Quote of the Day

Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin... finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves... down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony.

- Thomas Jefferson, May 31, 1791

Friday, April 17, 2015

Quote of the Day

The lakes are something which you are unprepared for; they lie up so high, exposed to the light, and the forest is diminished to a fine fringe on their edges, with here and there a blue mountain, like amethyst jewels set around some jewel of the first water, — so anterior, so superior, to all the changes that are to take place on their shores, even now civil and refined, and fair as they can ever be.

- Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Look of Love Is in the Dog’s Eyes

The dog’s gaze cues connection and response in the owner, who will reward the dog by gazing, talking and touching, all of which helps solder the two, the researchers said. They suggest that dogs became domesticated in part by adapting to a primary human means of contact: eye-to-eye communication.

And when researchers gave dogs extra oxytocin through a nasal spray, the female dogs (though not the males) gazed at their owners even longer, which in turn boosted the owners’ oxytocin levels.

“What’s unique about this study is that it demonstrates that oxytocin can boost social gaze interaction between two very different species,” said Steve Chang, an assistant professor of psychology and neurobiology at Yale who was not involved in this latest research.

Dr. Chang, who studies oxytocin in animals, noted that through domestication, dogs came to regard humans as their “key social partners,” while humans also came to view dogs as social partners.

“In a way, domesticated dogs could hijack our social circuits, and we can hijack their social circuits,” he said in an email, as each species learned how to raise the other’s oxytocin levels, facilitating connection.


“If I was dropped on Mars,” Dr. MacLean said, “and everyone was speaking a language I didn’t understand, and I knew I could never acquire their language, I’d just give up. But dogs don’t. They’re not reluctant to tune in to us at every moment.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Be studious in your profession, and you will be learned. Be industrious and frugal, and you will be rich. Be sober and temperate, and you will be healthy. Be in general virtuous, and you will be happy. At least you will, by such conduct, stand the be.

- Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Fermi Paradox - Are We The First?

Roger Griffith, a postbaccalaureate researcher at Penn State and the lead author of the paper, scoured almost the entire catalog of the WISE satellite's detections nearly 100 million entries for objects consistent with galaxies emitting too much mid-infrared radiation. He then individually examined and categorized around 100,000 of the most promising galaxy images. Wright reports, "We found about 50 galaxies that have unusually high levels of mid-infrared radiation. Our follow-up studies of those galaxies may reveal if the origin of their radiation results from natural astronomical processes, or if it could indicate the presence of a highly advanced civilization."

In any case, Wright said, the team's non-detection of any obvious alien-filled galaxies is an interesting and new scientific result. "Our results mean that, out of the 100,000 galaxies that WISE could see in sufficient detail, none of them is widely populated by an alien civilization using most of the starlight in its galaxy for its own purposes. That's interesting because these galaxies are billions of years old, which should have been plenty of time for them to have been filled with alien civilizations, if they exist. Either they don't exist, or they don't yet use enough energy for us to recognize them," Wright said.

"This research is a significant expansion of earlier work in this area," said Brendan Mullan, director of the Buhl Planetarium at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh and a member of the G-HAT team. "The only previous study of civilizations in other galaxies looked at only 100 or so galaxies, and wasn't looking for the heat they emit. This is new ground."

Matthew Povich, an assistant professor of astronomy at Cal Poly Pomona, and a co-investigator on the project, said "Once we had identified the best candidates for alien-filled galaxies, we had to determine whether they were new discoveries that needed follow-up study, or well-known objects that had a lot of mid-infrared emission for some natural reason." Jessica Maldonado, a Cal Poly Pomona undergraduate, searched the astronomical literature for the best of the objects detected as part of the study to see which were well known and which were new to science. "Ms. Maldonado discovered that about a half dozen of the objects are both unstudied and really interesting looking," Povich said.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.

- Bruce Lee

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Armed Rangers Guard Last Northern White Rhino Male

The picture explains the dichotomy of human nature... it's sad but the we have made progress.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

An approximate answer to the right problem is worth a good deal more than an exact answer to an approximate problem.

- John Tukey

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Road to Character - David Brooks

The Road to Character, new book by David Brooks releasing tomorrow and his friend Oliver Burkeman has a preview:

He is less enthusiastic about politics in general, though, in keeping with the new book’s inward turn. “I just find talking to politicians less interesting than I used to,” he says. “I used to find it fascinating, what all the little subterfuges going on in the construction of the immigration bill were. But I just can’t get my interest up any more. There’s a lot more action sociologically, psychologically, morally than politically, these days.” He lights up when asked to discuss the course he teaches to Yale University undergraduates, one day a week, entitled Humility. (Cue more blogosphere jokes.) “To get into a place like Yale, you have to work so hard, and these students know they’ve not spent time on this other part of their lives – so like any normal person, they feel a dryness, or a shallowness.” After completing the set readings – Augustine, Homer, Montaigne, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr – they have “a new set of categories, a new set of things to worry about”. Recently, one student told him that, since taking the course, he was much sadder than he used to be. “That’s a high compliment!” says Brooks. “He was a phenomenally bright and successful student. But, you know – you should be a little sadder, sometimes.”

Quote of the Day

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Cost of Trout Fishing

Twenty-eight million Americans will buy freshwater fishing licenses this year. Eight million of them will be trout and salmon anglers. Native wild trout have mostly disappeared in the face of this immense fishing pressure. They have been replaced by nonnative hatchery fish and their river-born “wild” trout offspring. Nationwide, state and federal fisheries agencies dump some 130 million trout in lakes, rivers and streams each year. Although this stocking lures people outside, the hatcheries that produce these trout create environmental problems.

Trout aquaculture is heavily reliant on pellet feed. The federal and state hatchery production of some 28 million pounds of trout per year requires roughly 34 million pounds of feed. These pellets are derived from herring, menhaden and anchovies harvested from oceans in quantities that the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say are unsustainable. We are devastating populations of marine species simply to support a freshwater hobby.


Many of the fishermen who will revisit their favorite stream this spring are happy to release their quarry after hooking and reeling them in. Although catch-and-release might seem, logically, to help maintain high numbers of catchable fish, the science does not validate this practice. Survival rates of hatchery fish in the wild are very low, especially after hooking damage and exhaustion associated with repeated catch-and-release encounters.

Studies suggest that 75 to 80 percent of hatchery trout are gone soon after stocking. The fact that many states still routinely stock streams regulated as catch-and-release-only waters is a strong indication that catch-and-release does not ensure fish survival. Hatcheries are breeding fish that are poorly adapted to life in the wild. Even worse, these fish can pass on their undesirable traits to wild populations of native fish.

Although stocking trout is harmful, eating them is far better than eating native wild trout. When these native fish die, their genetic uniqueness dies, too. (Brook and lake trout are the only trout native to the entire Northeast, for instance; nonnatives like brown, rainbow and golden trout are also released into Northeast streams.) Unfortunately, many states set uniformly high catch limits that draw no distinction between native versus nonnative trout. Therefore, anglers need to hold themselves to a higher standard than the rules that govern their actions.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

As Fawcett completed his maps of the Amazon, he became fascinated by the tribes populating the region. Like many Victorians, he held views of indigenous Americans that were often blinded by racism. “There are three kinds of Indians,” he wrote. “The first are docile and miserable people. . . . The second, dangerous, repulsive cannibals very rarely seen; the third a robust and fair people who must have a civilized origin.” He shared the widely held notion that any advanced civilization in South America, if it had ever existed, must have had a European origin—in Phoenicia, say, or even Atlantis. John Hemming, a distinguished historian of Brazilian Indians, has called Fawcett a “Nietzschean explorer” who spouted “eugenic gibberish.”

- David Grann, The Lost City of Oz

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

Markov Chain Monte Carlo is a technique to solve the problem of sampling from a complicated distribution. Let me explain by the following imaginary scenario. Say I have a magic box which can estimate probabilities of baby names very well. I can give it a string like “Malcolm” and it will tell me the exact probability p_{\textup{Malcolm}} that you will choose this name for your next child. So there’s a distribution D over all names, it’s very specific to your preferences, and for the sake of argument say this distribution is fixed and you don’t get to tamper with it.

Now comes the problem: I want to efficiently draw a name from this distribution D. This is the problem that Markov Chain Monte Carlo aims to solve. Why is it a problem? Because I have no idea what process you use to pick a name, so I can’t simulate that process myself. Here’s another method you could try: generate a name x uniformly at random, ask the machine for p_x, and then flip a biased coin with probability p_x and use x if the coin lands heads. The problem with this is that there are exponentially many names! The variable here is the number of bits needed to write down a name n = |x|. So either the probabilities p_x will be exponentially small and I’ll be flipping for a very long time to get a single name, or else there will only be a few names with nonzero probability and it will take me exponentially many draws to find them. Inefficiency is the death of me.

So this is a serious problem! Let’s restate it formally just to be clear.

Markov Chain Monte Carlo Without all the Bullshit

Quote of the Day

A man who is holding down a menial job and thereby supporting a wife and children is doing something authentically important with his life. He should take deep satisfaction from that, and be praised by his community for doing so. If that same man lives under a system that says the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, then that status goes away. I am not describing a theoretical outcome, but American neighborhoods where, once working at a menial job to provide for his family made a man proud and gave him status in his community, and where now it doesn't. Taking the trouble out of life strips people in major ways which human beings look back on their lives and say, ‘I made a difference.

- Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Friday, April 10, 2015

Quote of the Day

There is asymmetry. Those who die do so very early in the game, while those who live go on living very long. Whenever there is asymmetry in outcomes, the average survival has nothing to do with the median survival.

- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets

Thursday, April 9, 2015

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Math is Forever

Okay, 76.34 percent of you asked the question, 23.41 percent didn't say anything, and the 0.8 percent -- I'm not sure what those guys are doing. Well, to my dear 76.31 percent -- it's true that math doesn't need to serve a purpose, it's true that it's a beautiful structure, a logical one, probably one of the greatest collective efforts ever achieved in human history. But it's also true that there, where scientists and technicians are looking for mathematical theories that allow them to advance, they're within the structure of math, which permeates everything. It's true that we have to go somewhat deeper, to see what's behind science. Science operates on intuition, creativity. Math controls intuition and tames creativity. Almost everyone who hasn't heard this before is surprised when they hear that if you take a 0.1 millimeter thick sheet of paper, the size we normally use, and, if it were big enough, fold it 50 times, its thickness would extend almost the distance from the Earth to the sun. Your intuition tells you it's impossible. Do the math and you'll see it's right. That's what math is for.

It's true that science, all types of science, only makes sense because it makes us better understand this beautiful world we live in. And in doing that, it helps us avoid the pitfalls of this painful world we live in. There are sciences that help us in this way quite directly. Oncological science, for example. And there are others we look at from afar, with envy sometimes, but knowing that we are what supports them. All the basic sciences support them, including math. All that makes science, science is the rigor of math. And that rigor factors in because its results are eternal. You probably said or were told at some point that diamonds are forever, right? That depends on your definition of forever! A theorem -- that really is forever. The Pythagorean theorem is still true even though Pythagoras is dead, I assure you it's true. Even if the world collapsed the Pythagorean theorem would still be true. Wherever any two triangle sides and a good hypotenuse get together the Pythagorean theorem goes all out. It works like crazy. Well, we mathematicians devote ourselves to come up with theorems. Eternal truths.

Quote of the Day

Why may not a goose say thus: “All the parts of the universe I have an interest in: the earth serves me to walk upon, the sun to light me; the stars have their influence upon me; I have such an advantage by the winds and such by the waters; there is nothing that yon heavenly roof looks upon so favorably as me. I am the darling of Nature! Is it not man that keeps and serves me?

- Montaigne on how a goose might look at his life

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Stephen Fry Explains Aristotle !!

Quote of the Day

Q. Where is your money? Stocks? Treasuries? Bonds? 

A. It is mostly concentrated in cash. That’s not great, given that it gets eaten up by inflation. But I think most asset prices have been pushed by central banks to very elevated levels.

Mohamed El-Erian on economics, politics and his hope for a 'Sputnik moment'

Monday, April 6, 2015

Quote of the Day

No, Mr. Shepard, with respect, (that) is not the moral of the story. The moral of the story is that, if you have grounds to believe there is a ferocious predator at large, don't appoint as your sole watchman a twelve-year-old child whom you have resolved to ignore.

- The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

  • Consider the human mind to be like the skin of an onion, in each layer we find mechanical operations that can be explained in mechanical terms but we say these layers do not correspond to the real mind - if that is true then where is it to be found? Do we ever peel back an onion layer and find the real mind?
  • The only really satisfactory support for thinking machines will be provided by waiting for the end of the century and then playing 'The Imitation Game'.
  • The problem is mainly one of programming, rather than a engineering or data storage problem. Estimates of the storage capacity of the brain vary from 1010 to 1015 binary digits. Only a very small fraction is used for the higher types of thinking. Most of it likely used for the retention of visual impressions. It would be surprising if more than 109 was required for satisfactory playing of 'The Imitation Game'.
  • Think about the process which has brought about the adult mind: The initial state of the mind (birth), the education to which it has been subjected & other experience, not to be described as education, to which it has been subjected
  • Why not separate the problem into two, first create a child's brain, then educate it. Through experimentation of the machine and teaching methods you could emulate an evolutiontionary process. Opinions may vary on the complexity of this child machine, one might try to make it as simple as possible following the general principles, alternatively, one might have a complete system of logical inference "built in."
  • Regulating the order in which the rules of the logical system are applied is important as at each stage there would be a very large number of valid alternative steps. The choices mean the difference between a brilliant and a poor reasoner.
  • An important feature of a learning machine is that its teacher will often be largely ignorant of what is going on inside, although he may still be able to some extent to predict his pupil's behavior. This is in clear contrast with normal procedure when using a machine to do computations one's object is then to have a clear mental picture of the state of the machine at each moment in the computation. Intelligent behaviour presumably consists in a departure from the completely disciplined behaviour involved in computation
  • It is probably wise to include a random element in a learning machine. A random element is rather useful when we are searching for a solution of some problem. A systematic method has the disadvantage that there may be an enormous block without any solutions in the region which has to be investigated first. The learning process may be regarded as a search for a form of behaviour which will satisfy the teacher (or some other criterion). Since there is probably a very large number of satisfactory solutions the random method seems to be better than the systematic. It should be noticed that it is used in the analogous process of evolution. But there the systematic method is not possible. How could one keep track of the different genetical combinations that had been tried, so as to avoid trying them again?
- Summary of 'Computing Machinery and Intelligence' (1950) by Alan Turing & the original paper here

Finally this week, I got around reading Warren and Charlie's Berkshire Hathaway 2014 annual report. Here's a small snippet where they brilliantly distinguish between risk and volatility:

Stock prices will always be far more volatile than cash-equivalent holdings. Over the long term, however, currency-denominated instruments are riskier investments – far riskier investments – than widely-diversified stock portfolios that are bought over time and that are owned in a manner invoking only token fees and commissions. That lesson has not customarily been taught in business schools, where volatility is almost universally used as a proxy for risk. Though this pedagogic assumption makes for easy teaching, it is dead wrong: Volatility is far from synonymous with risk. Popular formulas that equate the two terms lead students, investors and CEOs astray.

Quote of the Day

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.

- Harry Truman

Friday, April 3, 2015

Tyler's Interview with Peter Thiel

Listen to the whole thing; lots of wisdom packed in a hour.

Quote of the Day

Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else ... Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.

- Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Trial investment thesis: deflation is here to stay, get used to it. Of course we’re used to that in high tech and communication because of Moore’s Law. we don’t model price increases in our business plans. But the rest of the modern economy and the goals of various central banks assume inflation is normal and desirable.

I’ll leave aside whether it’s desirable because I’m positing that deflation is going to happen (except in terms of certain debased currencies).

Energy prices are going relentlessly down. They drive costs, of course, through the economy. Moore’s law has had an effect on these prices both in the more efficient use of energy and more effective ways to extract or even generate it it and manage it in grids. But historically, if you measure by manhours required to generate a BTU, energy costs HAVE gone way down since the first fire was intentionally lit in dry sticks.

Moore’s law will eventually even drive the price of health care down (see Andy Kessler).

Food costs are arguable but energy has much effect here as does genetic engineering and computerized farming.

Currency devaluation as an instrument of national financing becomes more difficult with globalization and perhaps nation-independent currencies.

Obvious losers from deflation are the current banking system (built for inflation), debtors with non-productive assets, and governments both because they are debtors and because they lose the taxes on inflationary portion of interest is there is not interest.

The winners are? That’s the investment question I’m thinking about.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

- Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Quote of the Day

Suckers think that you cure greed with money, addiction with substances, expert problems with experts, banking with bankers, economics with economists, and debt crises with debt spending.

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