Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Quote of the Day

Creativity always comes a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity that it will turn out to be.

- Albert O. Hirschman

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Quote of the Day

Despite hopes for the future, Puerto Rico is, once again, forced to focus on reactive maintenance. “There is no time to redesign the system or apply new technologies at a large scale now,” Carlos Reyes, general manager of operations for EcoEléctrica, a private company that operates one of the few power plants not owned by AEE, told me in an email. Other experts agreed. It’s unlikely that Puerto Rico’s grid will be rebuilt stronger and better over the next year. It’ll be enough work just to get it back online in its same old state.

The work of reimagining the grid — and, more importantly, designing a system that won’t put people right back in the dark the next time a hurricane hits — will take more than just technological improvements. Puerto Rico will need to reimagine the system that led to outdated, run-down technology, too.


Why Puerto Rico’s Electric Grid Stood No Chance Against Maria

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

...But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice... I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.

- Charles Darwin, The Life & Letters of Charles Darwin


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

My first response on reading the “Pokémon paper”, as I have come to think of it, was dismay. My second was a wish to write a book for children that might conjure with the magic of “living creatures” rather than “synthetic subjects”. And my third was puzzlement. What had happened to the names and knowledge of nearby nature in the lives and reading of British children? Could they really have dwindled towards a vanishing point?

Subsequent research has confirmed the Pokémon paper’s broad findings. In a 2008 National Trust survey, only a third of eight- to 11-year-olds could identify a magpie, though nine out of 10 could name a Dalek. A 2017 RSPB “Birdwatch” survey smartly shifted the focus, assessing nature knowledge in parents rather than children. Of 2,000 adults, half couldn’t identify a house sparrow, a quarter didn’t know a blue tit or a starling, and a fifth thought a red kite wasn’t a bird – but nine out of 10 said they wanted children to learn about common British wildlife. A 2017 Wildlife Trusts survey found a third of adults unable to identify a barn owl, three-quarters unable to identify an ash tree – and two-thirds feeling that they had “lost touch with nature”.

[---]

In his influential book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv suggests that both adults and children have increasingly come to “regard nature as something to watch, to consume, to wear: to ignore”. Inevitably, such a shift – if it is a shift, rather than a new edition of an old problem – has consequences for imaginative territories as well as real ones. As children “abandon the sandlots and creekbeds, the alleys and woodlands”, asks Michael Chabon in his essay “The Wilderness of Childhood”, “what will become of the world of stories, of literature itself?”

One answer to Chabon’s question might be found in the data sets provided by the annual 500 Words story competition, run by the BBC and Oxford University Press. This glorious story fest is open to five- to 13-year-olds, and typically attracts more than 120,000 entries, supplying an annual corpus of well over 50m words. Taken together, the stories offered remarkable insights into the communal imagination and vocabulary of Britain’s children. Plots and characters can be seen emerging and fading. It’s possible to drill down in the data to specific lexical choices, tracking the rise and fall of single words.

[---]

We should be unsurprised that nature’s names are vanishing from children’s mouths and minds’ eyes, for nature itself is vanishing. We are presently living through the sixth great extinction – a speed and scale of planetary biodiversity loss not seen since the Cretaceous. At a local level, this expresses itself in what Michael McCarthy memorably calls “the great thinning”. The 2016 State of Nature report found Britain to be “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, with 53% of British species in decline – among them barn owls, newts, sparrows and starlings.

As nature thins, so does our memory of it. Shifting baseline syndrome flattens out the losses; each generation grows into ease with its new normal for nature. The grim end-point of this thinning is foreseen in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where common names survive but the common species to which they refer are all extinct. Names in that novel are spoken hopelessly, shaken like rattles filled with ash.

“Reconnect with nature” is the mantra for fixing this awful decline – as if we could just plug the toaster back into its socket and get right on back to lightly browning bread. We load the cant-word “connection” with responsibility, but rarely examine what it means philosophically or practically. An exception to this is the RSPB’s 2013 Connecting with Nature report, based on a three-year research project. Sensibly, the report recognised “nature deficit” as a complex problem, strongly inflected by socioeconomic and cultural factors. Dismayingly, it found only one in five British children to be “positively connected to nature”. Hopefully, it emphasised “nature connection” as not only a “conservation” issue, but also one closely involved with education, physical health, emotional wellbeing and future attainment: what’s good for nature is also good for the child.


- Badger or Bulbasaur - have children lost touch with nature? excerpts from The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane (Author), Jackie Morris (Author)

Quote of the Day

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of group selection to both science and the humanities, and further, to the foundation of moral and political reasoning.

- E.O.Wilson, The Origins of Creativity

Friday, October 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

Of all forms of pride, perhaps the most desirable is a justified pride in being trustworthy.

- Charlie Munger

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

It’s when we get to the social world that things really get gnarly. A lot of our thinking is for bonding, not truth-seeking, so most of us are quite willing to think or say anything that will help us be liked by our group. We’re quite willing to disparage anyone when, as Marilynne Robinson once put it, “the reward is the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved.” And when we don’t really know a subject well enough, in T. S. Eliot’s words, “we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts,” and go with whatever idea makes us feel popular.

- David Brooks

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Quote of the Day

I would say, if you like, that the party is like an out-moded mathematics...that is to say, the mathematics of Euclid. We need to invent a non-Euclidian mathematics with respect to political discipline.

- Alain Badiou, The Concept of Model: An Introduction to the Materialist Epistemology of Mathematics

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.

- Fred Rogers

Monday, October 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

As for goals, I don't set myself those anymore. I'm not one of these 'I must have achieved this and that by next year' kind of writers. I take things as they come and find that patience and persistence tend to win out in the end.

- Paul Kane

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Quote of the Day

Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.

-Arnold Bennett

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

As Kasparov described an early such match:
Having a computer partner also meant never having to worry about making a tactical blunder. The computer could project the consequences of each move we considered, pointing out possible outcomes and countermoves we might otherwise have missed. With that taken care of for us, we could concentrate on strategic planning instead of spending so much time on calculations. Human creativity was even more paramount under these conditions.
Kasparov argues that the introduction of machine intelligence to chess did not diminish but enhanced the aesthetics of the game, creating a new space for creativity at the game’s highest levels. Today, players of ‘freestyle’ chess work with high-end chess systems, databases of millions of games and moves, and often other human collaborators too. Freestyle teams can easily defeat both top grandmasters and chess programs, and some of the best centaur teams are made up of amateur players who have created better processes for combining human and machine intelligence.

These centaur games are beautiful. The quality of play is higher, the noise of simple human errors reduced, making space for the kind of pure contest that the platonic solids and geometries of chess idealise.

Art by algorithm

Quote of the Day

I think and think and think, I‘ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.

- Jonathan Safran Foer

Friday, October 6, 2017

Quote of the Day

Or is it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all. The emptiness of those applauding hands. The people who praise us; how capricious they are, how arbitrary. And the tiny region it takes place. The whole earth a point in space – and most of it uninhabited.

- Marcus Aurelius

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

When another blames you or hates you, or people voice similar criticisms, go to their souls, penetrate inside and see what sort of people they are. You will realize that there is no need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any particular opinion about you.

- Marcus Aurelius

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Quote of the Day

You can discard most of the junk that clutters your mind…and clear out space for yourself… by comprehending the scale of the world… by contemplating infinite time… by thinking of the speed with which things change — each part of every thing; the narrow space between our birth and death; the infinite time before; the equally unbounded time that follows.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Monday, October 2, 2017

Quote of the Day

Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.

- Werner Heisenberg, Across the Frontiers

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Quote of the Day

Courage is a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.

- G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week



In the talk, Naftali Tishby, a computer scientist and neuroscientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presented evidence in support of a new theory explaining how deep learning works. Tishby argues that deep neural networks learn according to a procedure called the “information bottleneck,” which he and two collaborators first described in purely theoretical terms in 1999. The idea is that a network rids noisy input data of extraneous details as if by squeezing the information through a bottleneck, retaining only the features most relevant to general concepts. Striking new computer experiments by Tishby and his student Ravid Shwartz-Ziv reveal how this squeezing procedure happens during deep learning, at least in the cases they studied.

Tishby’s findings have the AI community buzzing. “I believe that the information bottleneck idea could be very important in future deep neural network research,” said Alex Alemi of Google Research, who has already developed new approximation methods for applying an information bottleneck analysis to large deep neural networks. The bottleneck could serve “not only as a theoretical tool for understanding why our neural networks work as well as they do currently, but also as a tool for constructing new objectives and architectures of networks,” Alemi said.


New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep Learning

Quote of the Day

Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.

- John Locke

Friday, September 29, 2017

Quote of the Day

Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

- Rob Siltanen

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Quote of the Day

That as people age, accumulate more and more private experiences, their sense of history tightens, narrows, becomes more personal? So that to the extent that they remember events of social importance, they remember only for example 'where they were' when such-and-such occurred. Et cetera et cetera. Objective events and data become naturally more and more subjectively colored.

- David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Quote of the Day

Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.

- Rainer Maria Rilke

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Quote of the Day

We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.

- Richard Feynman

Monday, September 25, 2017

Quote of the Day

A very disturbing feature of overconfidence is that it often appears to be poorly associated with knowledge - that is, the more ignorant the individual, the more confident he or she might be.

- Robert Trivers, Deceit and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others

Sunday, September 24, 2017

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

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

When the butterfly emerged from its pupa, Robert Reed was stunned. It was a Gulf fritillary—a bright-orange species with a few tigerlike stripes. But this butterfly had no trace of orange anywhere. It was entirely black and silver. “It was the most heavy-metal butterfly I’ve ever seen,” Reed says. “It was amazing to see that thing crawl out of the pupa.”

Reed’s team at Cornell University had created the metal butterfly by deleting just one of its genes, using the revolutionary gene-editing technique known as CRISPR. And by performing the same feat across several butterfly species, the team showed that this one gene, known as optix, controls all kinds of butterfly patterns. Red becomes black. Matte becomes shiny. Another gene, known as WntA, produces even wilder variations when it’s deleted. Eyespots disappear. Boundaries shift. Stripes blur.

These experiments prove what earlier studies had suggested—that optix and WntA are “paintbrush genes,” says Anyi Mazo-Vargas, one of Reed’s students. “Wherever you put them, you’ll have a pattern.”

[---]

The details are still unclear though. How do these gene networks get rewired? When did they take on their roles as master regulators of wing patterns? Why have only a few genes done so? Did butterflies recruit these genes to paint their wings once during their evolution, or many times independently? A decade ago, these would have been fanciful questions. But in the CRISPR era, it suddenly seems possible to answer them.

“CRISPR is a miracle,” Reed says. “The first time we tried it, it worked, and when I saw that butterfly come out ... the biggest challenge of my career had just turned into an undergraduate project.”


- Scientists Can Now Repaint Butterfly Wings


Quote of the Day


Friday, September 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

I'm a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.

- Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Quote of the Day

The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.

- George Orwell

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

At the center of the experiment was the plant Mimosa pudica, which has a dramatic response to unfamiliar mechanical stimuli: Its leaves fold closed, perhaps to scare away eager herbivores. Using a specially designed rail, Gagliano introduced her M. pudica to a new experience. She dropped them, as if they were on a thrill ride in an amusement park for plants. The mimosa plants reacted. Their leaves shut tight. But as Gagliano repeated the stimulus—seven sets of 60 drops each, all in one day—the plants’ response changed. Soon, when they were dropped, they didn’t react at all. It wasn’t that they were worn out: When she shook them, they still shut their leaves tight. It was as if they knew that being dropped was nothing to freak out about.

Three days later, Gagliano came back to the lab and tested the same plants again. Down they went, and … nothing. The plants were just as stoic as before.

This was a surprise. In studies of animals such as bees, a memory that sticks for 24 hours is considered long-term. Gagliano wasn’t expecting the plants to keep hold of the training days later. “Then I went back six days later, and did it again, thinking surely now they forgot,” she says. “Instead, they remembered, exactly as if they had just received the training.”

She waited a month and dropped them again. Their leaves stayed open. According to the rules that scientists routinely apply to animals, the mimosa plants had demonstrated that they could learn.

In the study of the plant kingdom, a slow revolution is underway. Scientists are beginning to understand that plants have abilities, previously unnoticed and unimagined, that we’ve only ever associated with animals. In their own ways, plants can see, smell, feel, hear, and know where they are in the world. One recent study found that clusters of cells in plant embryos act a lot like brain cells and help the embryo to decide when to start growing.

[---]

In their experiments, however, Crisp and Eichten don’t observe many plant memories being formed. What if, they ask, plant memory is rare simply because it’s better for plants to forget? “Having a memory, keeping track molecularly of signals that you’ve received in the past from your environment, does have a cost,” says Eichten. “Since we don’t see memories all that often … maybe plants don’t want to remember things all the time. Maybe it’s better to put their energies elsewhere.” Even when memories do form, they can fade. Another research group has shown, for example, that a plant might form an epigenetic memory of salt stress and pass it along across generations, but that if the stress fades, so does the memory. A plant that remembers too much might sacrifice healthy growth to be constantly on guard against drought, flood, salt, insects. Better, perhaps, to let those negative experiences go, instead of always preparing for the worst.

[---]

“In that context, memory is actually not the interesting bit—of course you have memory, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to do the trick,” she says. “Memory is part of the learning process. But—who is doing the learning? What is actually happening? Who is it that is actually making the association between fan and light?”

It’s telling that Gagliano uses the word “who,” which many people would be unlikely to apply to plants. Even though they’re alive, we tend to think of plants as objects rather than dynamic, breathing, growing beings. We see them as mechanistic things that react to simple stimuli. But to some extent, that’s true of every type of life on Earth. Everything that lives is a bundle of chemicals and electrical signals in dialogue with the environment in which it exists. A memory, such as of the heat of summer on last year’s beach vacation, is a biochemical marker registered from a set of external inputs. A plant’s epigenetic memory, of the cold of winter months, on a fundamental level, is not so different.
The Hidden Memories of Plants

Quote of the Day

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.

- Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living


Friday, September 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will, through work, bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea’.

- Chuck Close

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Quote of the Day

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

The excluded when on living on the fringe, like lepers, of whom true leper are only the illustration ordained by god to make us understand this wondrous parable, so that in saying “lepers” we would understand “outcast, poor, simple, excluded, uprooted from the countryside, humiliated in the cities” but we did not understand; the mystery of leprosy has continued to haunt us because we have not recognized the nature of the sign. Excluded as they were from the flock, all of them were ready to hear, or to produce, every sermon that, harking back to the words of Christ, would condemn the behaviour of the dogs and shepherds and would promise their punishment one day. The powerful have always realised this. The recovery of the outcasts demanded a reduction of the privileges of the powerful, so the excluded who became aware of their exclusion had to be branded as heretics, whatever their doctrine. This is the illusion of heresy. Everyone is heretical, everyone is orthodox. The faith a movement proclaims doesn’t count: what counts is the hope it offers.

- Umberto Eco

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

When it came time for me to give my talk on the subject, I started off by drawing an outline of the cat and began to name the various muscles.

The other students in the class interrupt me: "We *know* all that!"

"Oh," I say, "you *do*? Then no *wonder* I can catch up with you so fast after you've had four years of biology." They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes.”


- Richard Feynman, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character

Monday, September 11, 2017

Quote of the Day

The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.

- Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t allow yourself to become one of them.

-Ralph Marston

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

This feeling recurred as I moved about the neighborhood. I was seeing things I remembered seeing though I’d never seen them. A lifelong immersion in a writer’s work can do that to a reader, especially when the work is as vivid and particular as White’s. One morning I stopped at the general store in the crossroads town of Brooklin, near the post office where White used to pick up his mail every day, using a basket to carry home the bundles of unsolicited gifts and the stacks of fan letters, including, nearly 20 years before, those two breathless letters of mine.

A walk through the home that inspired E. B. White's essays and stories

Quote of the Day

If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.

- Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–82

Friday, September 8, 2017

Quote of the Day

A key point to bear in mind: The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

- E.B. White

Monday, September 4, 2017

Quote of the Day

From now on, he wrote, we must always take into account our knowledge that we can destroy ourselves at will, with all our history and perhaps life on earth itself. Nothing stops us but our own free choosing. If we want to survive, we have to decide to live. Thus, he offered a philosophy designed for a species that had just scared the hell out of itself, but that finally felt ready to grow up and take responsibility.

- Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Quote of the Day

A good character is not life lived according to a rule, it is a life lived in balance.

- James Q. Wilson

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Consider the following thought experiment.

First case, one hundred persons go to a Casino, to gamble a certain set amount each and have complimentary gin and tonic –as shown in the cartoon in Figure x. Some may lose, some may win, and we can infer at the end of the day what the “edge” is, that is, calculate the returns simply by counting the money left with the people who return. We can thus figure out if the casino is properly pricing the odds. Now assume that gambler number 28 goes bust. Will gambler number 29 be affected? No.

You can safely calculate, from your sample, that about 1% of the gamblers will go bust. And if you keep playing and playing, you will be expected have about the same ratio, 1% of gamblers over that time window.

Now compare to the second case in the thought experiment. One person, your cousin Theodorus Ibn Warqa, goes to the Casino a hundred days in a row, starting with a set amount. On day 28 cousin Theodorus Ibn Warqa is bust. Will there be day 29? No. He has hit an uncle point; there is no game no more.

No matter how good he is or how alert your cousin Theodorus Ibn Warqa can be, you can safely calculate that he has a 100% probability of eventually going bust.

The probabilities of success from the collection of people does not apply to cousin Theodorus Ibn Warqa. Let us call the first set ensemble probability, and the second one time probability (since one is concerned with a collection of people and the other with a single person through time). Now, when you read material by finance professors, finance gurus or your local bank making investment recommendations based on the long term returns of the market, beware. Even if their forecast were true (it isn’t), no person can get the returns of the market unless he has infinite pockets and no uncle points. The are conflating ensemble probability and time probability. If the investor has to eventually reduce his exposure because of losses, or because of retirement, or because he remarried his neighbor’s wife, or because he changed his mind about life, his returns will be divorced from those of the market, period.


- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Logic of Risk Taking

Quote of the Day


  • First, an A.I. system must be subject to the full gamut of laws that apply to its human operator.
  • My second rule is that an A.I. system must clearly disclose that it is not human. 
  • My third rule is that an A.I. system cannot retain or disclose confidential information without explicit approval from the source of that information.

How to Regulate Artificial Intelligence

Friday, September 1, 2017

Quote of the Day

My method is different. I do not rush into actual work. When I get a new idea, I start at once building it up in my imagination, and make improvements and operate the device in my mind. When I have gone so far as to embody everything in my invention, every possible improvement I can think of, and when I see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form the final product of my brain.

- Nikola Tesla

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Quote of the Day

If you want to use your full amount of steam, you must close your valves and direct your power of generating mental steam toward one end. Center your mind on one purpose, one plan, one transaction.

- William Walker Atkinson, The Power of Concentration

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Quote of the Day

In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

- Herbert A. Simon

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Quote of the Day

Deep Blue didn't win by being smarter than a human; it won by being millions of times faster than a human. Deep Blue had no intuition. An expert human player looks at a board position and immediately sees what areas of play are most likely to be fruitful or dangerous, whereas a computer has no innate sense of what is important and must explore many more options. Deep Blue also had no sense of the history of the game, and didn't know anything about its opponent. It played chess yet didn't understand chess, in the same way a calculator performs arithmetic bud doesn't understand mathematics.

- Jeff Hawkins, On Intelligence

Monday, August 28, 2017

Quote of the Day

When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.

- Isak Dinesen

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Quote of the Day

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.

- Winston S. Churchill

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

I saw, early in the morning, the sun diminish against a backdrop of sky. I saw a circular piece of that sky appear, suddenly detached, blackened, and backlighted; from nowhere it came and overlapped the sun. It did not look like the moon. It was enormous and black. If I had not read that it was the moon, I could have seen the sight a hundred times and never thought of the moon once. (If, however, I had not read that it was the moon—if, like most of the world’s people throughout time, I had simply glanced up and seen this thing—then I doubtless would not have speculated much, but would have, like Emperor Louis of Bavaria in 840, simply died of fright on the spot.) It did not look like a dragon, although it looked more like a dragon than the moon. It looked like a lens cover, or the lid of a pot. It materialized out of thin air—black, and flat, and sliding, outlined in flame.

Seeing this black body was like seeing a mushroom cloud. The heart screeched. The meaning of the sight overwhelmed its fascination. It obliterated meaning itself. If you were to glance out one day and see a row of mushroom clouds rising on the horizon, you would know at once that what you were seeing, remarkable as it was, was intrinsically not worth remarking. No use running to tell anyone. Significant as it was, it did not matter a whit. For what is significance? It is significance for people. No people, no significance. This is all I have to tell you.

In the deeps are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us. But if you ride these monsters deeper down, if you drop with them farther over the world’s rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether which buoys the rest, which gives goodness its power for good, and evil. Its power for evil, the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here. This is given. It is not learned.

The world which lay under darkness and stillness following the closing of the lid was not the world we know. The event was over. Its devastation lay around about us. The clamoring mind and heart stilled, almost indifferent, certainly disembodied, frail, and exhausted. The hills were hushed, obliterated. Up in the sky, like a crater from some distant cataclysm, was a hollow ring.

You have seen photographs of the sun taken during a total eclipse. The corona fills the print. All of those photographs were taken through telescopes. The lenses of telescopes and cameras can no more cover the breadth and scale of the visual array than language can cover the breadth and simultaneity of internal experience. Lenses enlarge the sight, omit its context, and make of it a pretty and sensible picture, like something on a Christmas card. I assure you, if you send any shepherds a Christmas card on which is printed a three-by-three photograph of the angel of the Lord, the glory of the Lord, and a multitude of the heavenly host, they will not be sore afraid. More fearsome things can come in envelopes. More moving photographs than those of the sun’s corona can appear in magazines. But I pray you will never see anything more awful in the sky.


- Annie Dillard's Classic Essay: 'Total Eclipse'

Quote of the Day

Mood evidently affects the operation of System 1: when we are uncomfortable and unhappy, we lose touch with our intuition.These findings add to the growing evidence that good mood, intuition, creativity, gullibility, and increased reliance on System 1 form a cluster. At the other pole, sadness, vigilance, suspicion, an analytic approach, and increased effort also go together. A happy mood loosens the control of System 2 over performance: when in a good mood, people become more intuitive and more creative but also less vigilant and more prone to logical errors.

- Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Friday, August 25, 2017

A Love Letter to Great Math Teachers

My new book just came out. It’s called Motivated: Designing Math Classrooms Where Students Want to Join In. The book addresses the question: what can teachers do to design motivating environments for their students’ mathematical learning?

[---]

The book is, in the end, a love letter to great math teachers. I have always been moved by great teaching, the way that some people might be moved by great art. When I am in a classroom watching an engaging lesson unfold, it is a profound experience for me. To me, lessons are engaging when students’ humanity is not put underground but is a part of instruction. Students can be a delight, and when learning is connecting with them, it is a joy to watch.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.

- Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Quote of the Day

It’s an open debate how much education can boost innate aptitude or IQ, but the trait of “conscientiousness” does consistently predict educational and job success and also subjective happiness. Yet as access to information increases, conscientiousness will become all the more important. It will be less about whose parents could afford Harvard or who could charm the admissions officer, and more and more about who sits down and actually starts trying to master the material. And so a large part of the educational sector will be directed toward boosting conscientiousness, though not always with success.

- Tyler Cowen

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Quote of the Day

If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.

- Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

Listen to me, he said, when your dreams are of some world that never was or some world that never will be, and you're happy again, then you'll have given up. Do you understand? And you can't give up, I won't let you.

- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Monday, August 21, 2017

Quote of the Day

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.

- Seneca

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why Are So Many Smart People Such Idiots About Philosophy?

Philosophy is important for more than just a while, and has serious, practical uses for all of society. There are countless examples of philosophy of mind theories’ relevance to neuroscientists, or cases where political philosophers have shaped politicians.

Historically, physics and mathematics have often overlapped with philosophy, and many great scientists engaged with philosophers to advance their own thinking. (Einstein’s work can be studied alongside that of Kant, for example.) The physicist behind the theory of relativity was also a philosopher of science and, as Hall points out, Einstein reconfigured our concepts of space and time—itself a philosophical undertaking.

Philosophers also address the assumptions that underly science. “There’s a huge element in science of relying on our capacity to reason,” says Hall. “The way that capacity gets deployed in scientific inquiry often involves unstated but fairly substantial assumptions about the simplicity and elegance of the natural world. Philosophers bring to the table an awareness of how rich the set of assumptions are.”

So, for example, in the video Nye mockingly expresses his confidence that the sun will come up tomorrow. Philosophers are confident of this too, but few feel certain that they can explain exactly what causes this daily phenomenon—or any event. The 18th century philosopher David Hume’s argument that we don’t have a reasonable understanding of causation at all, but only presume cause and effect when two things have been observed as conjoined in the past, is notoriously difficult to refute. The problem underlies much of physics and is hardly insignificant.


And then there’s the development of formal logic, which was devised by philosophers a little over 100 years ago and is the foundation of coding and computer science—in other words, the grounding for all modern technology.

- More Here


Quote of the Day

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

No one I spoke to in the loose, interdisciplinary group of scientists working on plant intelligence claims that plants have telekinetic powers or feel emotions. Nor does anyone believe that we will locate a walnut-shaped organ somewhere in plants which processes sensory data and directs plant behavior. More likely, in the scientists’ view, intelligence in plants resembles that exhibited in insect colonies, where it is thought to be an emergent property of a great many mindless individuals organized in a network. Much of the research on plant intelligence has been inspired by the new science of networks, distributed computing, and swarm behavior, which has demonstrated some of the ways in which remarkably brainy behavior can emerge in the absence of actual brains..

“If you are a plant, having a brain is not an advantage,” Stefano Mancuso points out. Mancuso is perhaps the field’s most impassioned spokesman for the plant point of view. A slight, bearded Calabrian in his late forties, he comes across more like a humanities professor than like a scientist. When I visited him earlier this year at the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology, at the University of Florence, he told me that his conviction that humans grossly underestimate plants has its origins in a science-fiction story he remembers reading as a teen-ager. A race of aliens living in a radically sped-up dimension of time arrive on Earth and, unable to detect any movement in humans, come to the logical conclusion that we are “inert material” with which they may do as they please. The aliens proceed ruthlessly to exploit us. (Mancuso subsequently wrote to say that the story he recounted was actually a mangled recollection of an early “Star Trek” episode called “Wink of an Eye.”).

In Mancuso’s view, our “fetishization” of neurons, as well as our tendency to equate behavior with mobility, keeps us from appreciating what plants can do. For instance, since plants can’t run away and frequently get eaten, it serves them well not to have any irreplaceable organs. “A plant has a modular design, so it can lose up to ninety per cent of its body without being killed,” he said. “There’s nothing like that in the animal world. It creates a resilience.”

Indeed, many of the most impressive capabilities of plants can be traced to their unique existential predicament as beings rooted to the ground and therefore unable to pick up and move when they need something or when conditions turn unfavorable. The “sessile life style,” as plant biologists term it, calls for an extensive and nuanced understanding of one’s immediate environment, since the plant has to find everything it needs, and has to defend itself, while remaining fixed in place. A highly developed sensory apparatus is required to locate food and identify threats. Plants have evolved between fifteen and twenty distinct senses, including analogues of our five: smell and taste (they sense and respond to chemicals in the air or on their bodies); sight (they react differently to various wavelengths of light as well as to shadow); touch (a vine or a root “knows” when it encounters a solid object); and, it has been discovered, sound. In a recent experiment, Heidi Appel, a chemical ecologist at the University of Missouri, found that, when she played a recording of a caterpillar chomping a leaf for a plant that hadn’t been touched, the sound primed the plant’s genetic machinery to produce defense chemicals. Another experiment, done in Mancuso’s lab and not yet published, found that plant roots would seek out a buried pipe through which water was flowing even if the exterior of the pipe was dry, which suggested that plants somehow “hear” the sound of flowing water..

The sensory capabilities of plant roots fascinated Charles Darwin, who in his later years became increasingly passionate about plants; he and his son Francis performed scores of ingenious experiments on plants. Many involved the root, or radicle, of young plants, which the Darwins demonstrated could sense light, moisture, gravity, pressure, and several other environmental qualities, and then determine the optimal trajectory for the root’s growth. The last sentence of Darwin’s 1880 book, “The Power of Movement in Plants,” has assumed scriptural authority for some plant neurobiologists: “It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the tip of the radicle . . . having the power of directing the movements of the adjoining parts, acts like the brain of one of the lower animals; the brain being seated within the anterior end of the body, receiving impressions from the sense organs and directing the several movements.” Darwin was asking us to think of the plant as a kind of upside-down animal, with its main sensory organs and “brain” on the bottom, underground, and its sexual organs on top.

[---]

The sessile life style also helps account for plants’ extraordinary gift for biochemistry, which far exceeds that of animals and, arguably, of human chemists. (Many drugs, from aspirin to opiates, derive from compounds designed by plants.) Unable to run away, plants deploy a complex molecular vocabulary to signal distress, deter or poison enemies, and recruit animals to perform various services for them. A recent study in Science found that the caffeine produced by many plants may function not only as a defense chemical, as had previously been thought, but in some cases as a psychoactive drug in their nectar. The caffeine encourages bees to remember a particular plant and return to it, making them more faithful and effective pollinators..

One of the most productive areas of plant research in recent years has been plant signalling. Since the early nineteen-eighties, it has been known that when a plant’s leaves are infected or chewed by insects they emit volatile chemicals that signal other leaves to mount a defense. Sometimes this warning signal contains information about the identity of the insect, gleaned from the taste of its saliva. Depending on the plant and the attacker, the defense might involve altering the leaf’s flavor or texture, or producing toxins or other compounds that render the plant’s flesh less digestible to herbivores. When antelopes browse acacia trees, the leaves produce tannins that make them unappetizing and difficult to digest. When food is scarce and acacias are overbrowsed, it has been reported, the trees produce sufficient amounts of toxin to kill the animals..

Perhaps the cleverest instance of plant signalling involves two insect species, the first in the role of pest and the second as its exterminator. Several species, including corn and lima beans, emit a chemical distress call when attacked by caterpillars. Parasitic wasps some distance away lock in on that scent, follow it to the afflicted plant, and proceed to slowly destroy the caterpillars. Scientists call these insects “plant bodyguards.”.

[---]

“I define it very simply,” Mancuso said. “Intelligence is the ability to solve problems.” In place of a brain, “what I am looking for is a distributed sort of intelligence, as we see in the swarming of birds.” In a flock, each bird has only to follow a few simple rules, such as maintaining a prescribed distance from its neighbor, yet the collective effect of a great many birds executing a simple algorithm is a complex and supremely well-coördinated behavior. Mancuso’s hypothesis is that something similar is at work in plants, with their thousands of root tips playing the role of the individual birds—gathering and assessing data from the environment and responding in local but coördinated ways that benefit the entire organism.

“Neurons perhaps are overrated,” Mancuso said. “They’re really just excitable cells.” Plants have their own excitable cells, many of them in a region just behind the root tip. Here Mancuso and his frequent collaborator, František Baluška, have detected unusually high levels of electrical activity and oxygen consumption. They’ve hypothesized in a series of papers that this so-called “transition zone” may be the locus of the “root brain” first proposed by Darwin. The idea remains unproved and controversial. “What’s going on there is not well understood,” Lincoln Taiz told me, “but there is no evidence it is a command center.”

How plants do what they do without a brain—what Anthony Trewavas has called their “mindless mastery”—raises questions about how our brains do what they do. When I asked Mancuso about the function and location of memory in plants, he speculated about the possible role of calcium channels and other mechanisms, but then he reminded me that mystery still surrounds where and how our memories are stored: “It could be the same kind of machinery, and figuring it out in plants may help us figure it out in humans.”

[---]

Mancuso and his colleagues are writing the next chapter in “The History of Increasing Humiliation.” Their project entails breaking down the walls between the kingdoms of plants and animals, and it is proceeding not only experiment by experiment but also word by word. Start with that slippery word “intelligence.” Particularly when there is no dominant definition (and when measurements of intelligence, such as I.Q., have been shown to be culturally biased), it is possible to define intelligence in a way that either reinforces the boundary between animals and plants (say, one that entails abstract thought) or undermines it. Plant neurobiologists have chosen to define intelligence democratically, as an ability to solve problems or, more precisely, to respond adaptively to circumstances, including ones unforeseen in the genome.

“I agree that humans are special,” Mancuso says. “We are the first species able to argue about what intelligence is. But it’s the quantity, not the quality” of intelligence that sets us apart. We exist on a continuum with the acacia, the radish, and the bacterium. “Intelligence is a property of life,” he says. I asked him why he thinks people have an easier time granting intelligence to computers than to plants. (Fred Sack told me that he can abide the term “artificial intelligence,” because the intelligence in this case is modified by the word “artificial,” but not “plant intelligence.” He offered no argument, except to say, “I’m in the majority in saying it’s a little weird.”) Mancuso thinks we’re willing to accept artificial intelligence because computers are our creations, and so reflect our own intelligence back at us. They are also our dependents, unlike plants: “If we were to vanish tomorrow, the plants would be fine, but if the plants vanished . . .” Our dependence on plants breeds a contempt for them, Mancuso believes. In his somewhat topsy-turvy view, plants “remind us of our weakness.”


- Intelligent Plant by Michael Pollan

Quote of the Day




Friday, August 18, 2017

Quote of the Day

Far from making America great again, Mr. Trump has betrayed the foundations of our common citizenship. And his actions are jeopardizing any prospect of enacting an agenda that might restore the promise of American life.

I Voted for Trump. And I Sorely Regret It

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Quote of the Day

Questioning the ostensibly unquestionable premises of our way of life is arguably the most urgent of services we owe our fellow humans and ourselves.

- Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Don't Be a Sucker - 1947 Post-WW2 Anti-Fascist Educational Film by USA



1947 anti-fascist video made by US military to teach citizens how to avoid falling for people like Trump is relevant again.

Quote of the Day

While it is true that many people simply can't afford to pay more for food, either in money or time or both, many more of us can. After all, just in the last decade or two we've somehow found the time in the day to spend several hours on the internet and the money in the budget not only to pay for broadband service, but to cover a second phone bill and a new monthly bill for television, formerly free. For the majority of Americans, spending more for better food is less a matter of ability than priority.

-  Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.

- George Orwell

Monday, August 14, 2017

Compassion vs. Cruelty: Why You Should Read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy never reveals the origin of the cataclysm because the novel is not concerned with how the world came to ruins. It’s concerned about the state of morality in a post-apocalyptic world.

And the father, who is unnamed to highlight the universality of the book, is crossed, like we are, as he attempts to raise his child to be decent and civil in an indecent and uncivilized world.


Son: We wouldn’t ever eat anybody, would we?
Father: No. Of course not.
Even if we were starving?
We’re starving now.
No matter what.
No. No matter what.
Because we’re the good guys.
Yes.
And we’re carrying the fire.
And we’re carrying the fire. Yes.


The Road forces its characters and its readers to weigh the costs of both compassion and cruelty.
That moral divide of, “Do I dehumanize others for my own survival?” 

The cannibals have resorted to dehumanization to fill their stomachs with food. Yet in doing so, they are selfishly killing humanity’s chances of survival.

McCarthy parallels such selfish cruelty with the father’s heroic attempts to teach his son why compassion, more than cruelty, is necessary for humanity’s survival.

[---]

The Road as a Guide to Parenting

"You have my whole heart. You always did. You’re the best guy. You always were."

You will never find The Road waiting on the shelves in the Parenting section of a bookstore. But beyond the terse, dystopian, survival story it’s about how to raise a child in the bleakest of hours.

Read the dedication page.

McCarthy dedicates The Road to his then 7 year old son John Francis.

In his interview with Oprah, McCarthy calls his son the coauthor of the book. Because many of the conversations in the book were based on real conversations McCarthy had with his own son.

McCarthy has said that The Road is everything he wants to teach his son about growing up, about life, about being “a good guy.”

The father continually tells his son, that no matter what, “You must carry the fire.”

Yes, the fire is literal–the boy needs the fire for warmth and to cook but fire is metaphorical for compassion and love.

Because, the father believes it’s the fire that will spring the boy’s survival.

And I couldn’t agree more.


- More Here from Jay Armstrong

Quote of the Day

It’s a self-organizing process, by which selection will arrive at some standard of beauty all by itself, in the absence of any adaptive benefit—or, indeed, despite maladaptive disadvantage.

- The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World - and Us by Richard O. Prum

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

If a man has frequent intercourse with others either for talk, or drinking together, or generally for social purposes, he must either become like them, or change them to his own fashion. For if a man places a piece of quenched charcoal close to a piece that is burning, either the quenched charcoal will quench the other, or the burning charcoal will light that which is quenched. Since then the danger is so great, we must cautiously enter into such intimacies with those of the common sort, and remember that it is impossible that a man can keep company with one who is covered with soot without being partaker of the soot himself. For what will you do if a man speaks about gladiators, about horses, about athletes, or what is worse about men? Such a person is bad, such a person is good: this was well done, this was done badly. Further, if he scoff, or ridicule, or show an ill-natured disposition?

- Discourses, 3.16 by Epictetus

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

If Adam Smith had strapped on a bee suit—or a safari jacket, or a scuba mask—he could have discovered that the animal kingdom is, in fact, a chamber of commerce. “Biological markets are all over the place,” says Ronald Noë, a Dutch biologist at the University of Strasbourg who first proposed the concept of the biological market in 1994. Scientists have since described biological markets in the African savannah, Central American rainforests, and the Great Barrier Reef. Baboons and other social primates exchange grooming for sex. Some plants and insects reward ants for protection. Cleaner wrasses eat parasites off other fish and behave more gently when a “client” has the option of visiting a rival wrasse.

These discoveries have not just deflated economists’ anthropocentrism but have challenged biological dogmas as well. “We all learned not to treat animals in an anthropomorphic way, but a theory that was produced to explain human behavior nevertheless matters in biology,” says Peter Hammerstein, Noë’s co-author and a professor of theoretical biology at the Humboldt University in Berlin. “In fact, I believe some of it works better in biology than in humans.”

Noë began to think about economics in biology in 1981 as he worked on a post-doctorate degree in Kenya. “A big baboon gave me the idea,” he says. Baboons live in large hierarchal groups, and Noë was interested in when and how low-ranking males teamed up to challenge a more dominant male to mate with a female. Cooperation was common in nature—not just between animals of the same species but also between different species (for example, a plant and its pollinator). But the origins of cooperation were a mystery. How could two animals work together when Darwin’s theory of evolution taught about survival of the fittest? Shouldn’t natural selection always favor ruthless self-interest?

“It was one of the early questions in behavioral biology,” says Hammerstein. “Why do animals not always kill each other? Why is aggression limited?”

When Noë began his fieldwork, behavioral biologists proposed two theories for cooperation. The first, called “kin selection,” held that an organism could sometimes better propagate its genetic material by helping a close relative reproduce rather than trying to reproduce itself. An ant colony, for instance, has a huge number of sterile female workers who help raise the young of a kindred queen. But kin selection couldn’t explain why a fish such as the cleaner wrasse can pick parasites from the teeth of a barracuda with almost no risk of becoming a meal itself. They shared no genes, so a predator ought to reap a dual reward by eating the dentist after the cleaning.

“Reciprocal altruism” was the second main evolutionary theory for cooperation. Biologists argued that natural selection could favor cooperation between two organisms that interact repeatedly over their lifetimes. One individual conferred some benefit on the other, knowing that the benefit would be repaid down the line. The crux of reciprocal altruism was the idea of partner control. How could an altruist guarantee that his partner would return the favor?

To answer this question, biologists looked to game theory, which sought to model conflict and cooperation strategies between self-interested individuals. The most famous example was the two-player game called the prisoner’s dilemma, and biologists used it to write elaborate formulas for how reciprocal altruism might have evolved. “It was all theoretical papers stacked on top of each other, and at the bottom there was no empirical evidence,” Noë says. “I’m inclined to look at what real animals do.”

[---]

In 1994, Noë and Hammerstein laid out their new theory of biological markets in the journal Behavioral Ecology & Socialbiology. The paper fused the biologists’ different styles: Hammerstein developed the mathematical models, while Noë dug through the scientific literature for evidence from the field. Examples turned up across the animal kingdom. Male scorpion flies offer females a “nuptial gift” of prey before mating. In some species of bird, such as the purple martin, a male will allow another male to occupy part of his territory in exchange for help raising his young. Lycaenid butterfly caterpillars produce a sweet “nectar” whose only purpose is to attract ants, which eat the nectar and protect the caterpillars from predators.

In each example the “exchange rate” is not fixed but rather contingent on the supply of available partners. “It is essentially a supply-demand theory,” says Frans de Waal, the eminent primatologist from Emory University and a former mentor of Noë. The more male scorpion flies available on the market, the larger the nuptial gift the female will demand. The male purple martin chooses the most juvenile-looking and least threatening tenant. And the caterpillars adjust the amount of nectar they produce to the number of ants in the vicinity.

Noë and Hammerstein felt their paper laid out a radical new way to understand cooperation in nature, but there was not much immediate enthusiasm from their peers. “Because it was not in the big journals, it took off very slowly,” Noë says. The new theory inspired some of their students, though, who took it into the field. “I thought this is such a different way of looking cooperation and it made intuitive sense,” says Redouan Bshary, a professor of behavioral ecology at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. Although he had trained with Noë in primatology, Bshary learned to scuba dive so he could study the animal that had long fascinated biologists who study cooperation: the cleaner wrasse.

Cleaner wrasses are small, ribbony fishes with black racing stripes from eye to tail. They aren’t the flashiest fish on the reef, but they are perhaps the cleverest. Each wrasse occupies a “station” on a piece of coral, which other fish visit when they are feeling crusty. The wrasses eat the dead skin and parasites off their clients, but not all clients receive equal treatment. Some clients have to wait longer than others, and a wrasse sometimes spices up its diet by sneaking a painful bite of healthy scales and mucus.

Bshary believed that market forces could explain the differences in service quality. He began his research in the Red Sea, where he divided the wrasses’ clients into two categories: the floaters with big ranges, who could travel between several cleaning stations; and the residents with small ranges, who couldn’t reach more than a single cleaning station. Floaters would be able to shop among stations, Bshary reasoned, while residents would not. Indeed, Bshary found that the floaters almost always received prompter and gentler treatment. The wrasses made residents wait longer for cleaning and were also much more likely to munch on residents’ healthy scales and mucus, demonstrating another well-known law of economics: Monopolists are jerks.


The Secret Economic Lives of Animals

Quote of the Day

For what purpose do you choose to read? Tell me. For if you only direct your purpose to being amused or learning something, you are a silly fellow and incapable of enduring labour. But if you refer reading to the proper end, what else is this than a tranquil and happy life? But if reading does not secure for you a happy and tranquil life, what is the use of it.

- Discourses, 4.4 by  Epictetus

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Hundred Years of Crypto Anarchy

This is Ft. Knox. There’s something like $200B worth of gold stored here. A game theorist might reckon that it’s economically rational to spend up to $199B to break into the vault and steal the gold.

Except that we have a $600 billion defense budget. In the physical world, whoever has the biggest weapons gets to make the rules.

This isn’t true for the digital world. Encryption is cheap to defend and expensive to attack. To brute force a 128-bit RSA key would take a million billion years with a supercomputer.

Threats of violence are useless here.


- More Here

How America Lost It's Mind !

Why are we like this?

The short answer is because we’re Americans—because being American means we can believe anything we want; that our beliefs are equal or superior to anyone else’s, experts be damned. Once people commit to that approach, the world turns inside out, and no cause-and-effect connection is fixed. The credible becomes incredible and the incredible credible.

The word mainstream has recently become a pejorative, shorthand for bias, lies, oppression by the elites. Yet the institutions and forces that once kept us from indulging the flagrantly untrue or absurd—media, academia, government, corporate America, professional associations, respectable opinion in the aggregate—have enabled and encouraged every species of fantasy over the past few decades.

A senior physician at one of America’s most prestigious university hospitals promotes “miracle cures” on his daily TV show. Cable channels air documentaries treating mermaids, monsters, ghosts, and angels as real. When a political-science professor attacks the idea “that there is some ‘public’ that shares a notion of reality, a concept of reason, and a set of criteria by which claims to reason and rationality are judged,” colleagues just nod and grant tenure. The old fringes have been folded into the new center. The irrational has become respectable and often unstoppable.

Our whole social environment and each of its overlapping parts—cultural, religious, political, intellectual, psychological—have become conducive to spectacular fallacy and truthiness and make-believe. There are many slippery slopes, leading in various directions to other exciting nonsense. During the past several decades, those naturally slippery slopes have been turned into a colossal and permanent complex of interconnected, crisscrossing bobsled tracks, which Donald Trump slid down right into the White House.

[---]

The idea that progress has some kind of unstoppable momentum, as if powered by a Newtonian law, was always a very American belief. However, it’s really an article of faith, the Christian fantasy about history’s happy ending reconfigured during and after the Enlightenment as a set of modern secular fantasies. It reflects our blithe conviction that America’s visions of freedom and democracy and justice and prosperity must prevail in the end. I really can imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into irreversible decline, heading deeper into Fantasyland. I wonder whether it’s only America’s destiny, exceptional as ever, to unravel in this way. Or maybe we’re just early adopters, the canaries in the global mine, and Canada and Denmark and Japan and China and all the rest will eventually follow us down our tunnel. Why should modern civilization’s great principles—democracy, freedom, tolerance—guarantee great outcomes?


Yet because I’m an American, a fortunate American who has lived in a fortunate American century, I remain (barely) more of an optimist than a pessimist. Even as we’ve entered this long winter of foolishness and darkness, when too many Americans are losing their grip on reason and reality, it has been an epoch of astonishing hope and light as well. During these same past few decades, Americans reduced the rates of murder and violent crime by more than half. We decoded the human genome, elected an African American president, recorded the sound of two black holes colliding 1 billion years ago, and created Beloved, The Simpsons, Goodfellas, Angels in America, The Wire, The Colbert Report, Transparent, Hamilton. Since 1981, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty around the globe has plummeted from 44 percent to 10 percent. I do despair of our devolution into unreason and magical thinking, but not everything has gone wrong.


What is to be done? I don’t have an actionable agenda, Seven Ways Sensible People Can Save America From the Craziness. But I think we can slow the flood, repair the levees, and maybe stop things from getting any worse. If we’re splitting into two different cultures, we in reality-based America—whether the blue part or the smaller red part—must try to keep our zone as large and robust and attractive as possible for ourselves and for future generations. We need to firmly commit to Moynihan’s aphorism about opinions versus facts. We must call out the dangerously untrue and unreal. A grassroots movement against one kind of cultural squishiness has taken off and lately reshaped our national politics—the opposition to political correctness. I envision a comparable struggle that insists on distinguishing between the factually true and the blatantly false.


It will require a struggle to make America reality-based again. Fight the good fight in your private life. You needn’t get into an argument with the stranger at Chipotle who claims that George Soros and Uber are plotting to make his muscle car illegal—but do not give acquaintances and friends and family members free passes. If you have children or grandchildren, teach them to distinguish between true and untrue as fiercely as you do between right and wrong and between wise and foolish.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Things are in a sense so wrapped up in mystery that quite a few philosophers, even the exceptional ones, have concluded that they are wholly beyond our comprehension.  Even to the Stoics themselves they seem difficult to understand.  Indeed, every assent we give to the impressions of our senses is liable to error, for where is the man who never errs?

- Marcus Aurelius

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.

- Samuel Adams

Monday, August 7, 2017

Quote of the Day

[He] opened a fresh notebook. On the title page he wrote: NOTEBOOK OF THINGS I DON’T KNOW ABOUT. For the first but not last time he reorganized his knowledge. He worked for weeks at disassembling each branch of physics, oiling the parts, and putting them back together, looking all the while for the raw edges and inconsistencies. He tried to find the essential kernels of each subject.

- Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Smartphone Generation - A Statistical Portrait


- More Here

Quote of the Day

Toward the people he [Marcus] acted just as one acts in a free state.  He was at all times exceedingly reasonable both in restraining men from evil and in urging them to good, generous in rewarding and quick to forgive, thus making bad men good, and good men very good, and he even bore with unruffled temper the insolence of not a few.

Historia Augusta

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Wisdom of the Week

Quote of the Day

Both liberty and equality are among the primary goals pursued by human beings throughout many centuries; but total liberty for wolves is death to the lambs, total liberty of the powerful, the gifted, is not compatible with the rights to a decent existence of the weak and the less gifted.

- Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas

Friday, August 4, 2017

Why Schools Don't Educate

Schools were designed by Horace Mann and Barnard Sears and Harper of the University of Chicago and Thorndyke of Columbia Teachers College and some other men to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce through the application of formulae, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.

To a very great extent, schools succeed in doing this. But our society is disintegrating, and in such a society, the only successful people are self-reliant, confident, and individualistic - because the community life which protects the dependent and the weak is dead. The products of schooling are, as I've said, irrelevant. Well-schooled people are irrelevant. They can sell film and razor blades, push paper and talk on the telephones, or sit mindlessly before a flickering computer terminal but as human beings they are useless. Useless to others and useless to themselves.

The daily misery around us is, I think, in large measure caused by the fact that - as Paul Goodman put it thirty years ago - we force children to grow up absurd. Any reform in schooling has to deal with its absurdities.

It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety, indeed it cuts you off from your own part and future, scaling you to a continuous present much the same way television does.

It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to listen to a stranger reading poetry when you want to learn to construct buildings, or to sit with a stranger discussing the construction of buildings when you want to read poetry.

It is absurd and anti-life to move from cell to cell at the sound of a gong for every day of your natural youth in an institution that allows you no privacy and even follows you into the sanctuary of your home demanding that you do its "homework".

"How will they learn to read?" you say and my answer is "Remember the lessons of Massachusetts." When children are given whole lives instead of age-graded ones in cellblocks they learn to read, write, and do arithmetic with ease if those things make sense in the kind of life that unfolds around them.

But keep in mind that in the United States almost nobody who reads, writes or does arithmetic gets much respect. We are a land of talkers, we pay talkers the most and admire talkers the most, and so our children talk constantly, following the public models of television and schoolteachers. It is very difficult to teach the "basics" anymore because they really aren't basic to the society we've made.


Two institutions at present control our children's lives - television and schooling, in that order. Both of these reduce the real world of wisdom, fortitude, temperance, and justice to a never-ending, non-stopping abstraction. In centuries past the time of a child and adolescent would be occupied in real work, real charity, real adventures, and the realistic search for mentors who might teach what you really wanted to learn. A great deal of time was spent in community pursuits, practicing affection, meeting and studying every level of the community, learning how to make a home, and dozens of other tasks necessary to become a whole man or woman.


- More Here from John Taylor Gatto

Quote of the Day

If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter.

- Isaiah Berlin

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Quote of the Day

Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

- George Orwell

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Quote of the Day

The brain is heavily influenced by genes. But from birth through young adulthood, the part of the human brain that most defines us (frontal cortex) is less a product of the genes with which you started life than of what life has thrown at you. Because it is the least constrained by genes and most sculpted by experience. This must be so, to be the supremely complex social species that we are. Ironically, it seems that the genetic program of human brain development has evolved to, as much as possible, free the frontal cortext from genes.

- Robert M. Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Monday, July 31, 2017

Quote of the Day

If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, July 30, 2017

That Idiot's State of Mind & Ours

For some mental-health practitioners, the ethical debate is a distraction from a larger point. In a forthcoming book called “Twilight of American Sanity,” Allen Frances, a professor emeritus at Duke University Medical College, argues that the more urgent concern is unravelling the national psyche that brought our politics to this moment. Frances told me, “We need to be looking in the mirror to see what’s wrong with us that would allow someone who is so unsuitable for the Presidency to rise to the highest and most dangerous office in the world. Trump’s psychology is far too obvious to be interesting. You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to understand Trump. He’s the most transparent human being who ever lived. Giving it a name doesn’t explain it or change it.”

As Trump rages in the White House, the country has settled into a summer numbness. The protests have grown less frequent; the country has escaped to the beach; the latest cell-phone push notifications from news apps no longer produce a skip of the heart. Diagnosing that sense of permission and paralysis is an urgent problem, Frances said. “The instruments for dealing with Trump are political,” he added. “Psychological name-calling is an impotent avoidance of our responsibility as citizens, and it represents a failure to try to get insight into us, which is much more important.”


- More Here

Quote of the Day

Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.

You forget some things, dont you?

Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.


- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

It was early June when I walked through those same doors, to see what was going on. The D.O.E. makes its home in a long rectangular cinder-block-like building propped up on concrete stilts, just off the National Mall. It’s a jarring sight—as if someone had punched out a skyscraper and it never got back on its feet. It’s relentlessly ugly in the way the swamps around Newark Airport are ugly—so ugly that its ugliness bends back around into a sneaky kind of beauty: it will make an excellent ruin. Inside, the place feels like a lab experiment to determine just how little aesthetic stimulation human beings can endure. The endless hallways are floored with white linoleum and almost insistently devoid of personality. “Like a hospital, without the stretchers,” as one employee put it. But this place is at once desolate and urgent. People still work here, doing stuff that, if left undone, might result in unimaginable death and destruction.

By the time I arrived the first eighth of Trump’s first term was nearly complete, and his administration was still, largely, missing. He hadn’t nominated anyone to serve as head of the Patent Office, for instance, or to run FEMA. There was no Trump candidate to head the T.S.A., or anyone to run the Centers for Disease Control. The 2020 national census will be a massive undertaking for which there is not a moment to lose and yet there’s no Trump appointee in place to run it. “The actual government has not really taken over,” says Max Stier. “It’s kindergarten soccer. Everyone is on the ball. No one is at their positions. But I doubt Trump sees the reality. Everywhere he goes everything is going to be hunky-dory and nice. No one gives him the bad news.”

At this point in their administrations Obama and Bush had nominated their top 10 people at the D.O.E. and installed most of them in their offices. Trump had nominated three people and installed just one, former Texas governor Rick Perry. Perry is of course responsible for one of the D.O.E.’s most famous moments—when in a 2011 presidential debate he said he intended to eliminate three entire departments of the federal government. Asked to list them he named Commerce, Education, and … then hit a wall. “The third agency of government I would do away with ... Education ... the … ahhhh … ahhh … Commerce, and let’s see.” As his eyes bored a hole in his lectern, his mind drew a blank. “I can’t, the third one. I can’t. Sorry. Oops.” The third department Perry wanted to get rid of, he later recalled, was the Department of Energy. In his confirmation hearings to run the department Perry confessed that when he called for its elimination he hadn’t actually known what the Department of Energy did—and he now regretted having said that it didn’t do anything worth doing.

The question on the minds of the people who currently work at the department: Does he know what it does now? D.O.E. press secretary Shaylyn Hynes assures us that “Secretary Perry is dedicated to the missions of the Department of Energy.” And in his hearings, Perry made a show of having educated himself. He said how useful it was to be briefed by former secretary Ernest Moniz. But when I asked someone familiar with those briefings how many hours Perry had spent with Moniz, he laughed and said, “That’s the wrong unit of account.” With the nuclear physicist who understood the D.O.E. perhaps better than anyone else on earth, according to one person familiar with the meeting, Perry had spent minutes, not hours. “He has no personal interest in understanding what we do and effecting change,” a D.O.E. staffer told me in June. “He’s never been briefed on a program—not a single one, which to me is shocking.”

Since Perry was confirmed, his role has been ceremonial and bizarre. He pops up in distant lands and tweets in praise of this or that D.O.E. program while his masters inside the White House create budgets to eliminate those very programs. His sporadic public communications have had in them something of the shell-shocked grandmother trying to preside over a pleasant family Thanksgiving dinner while pretending that her blind-drunk husband isn’t standing naked on the dining-room table waving the carving knife over his head.

[---]

What’s the second risk on your list?,” I ask.

“North Korea would be up there,” says MacWilliams.

Why do I, as an incoming official at the D.O.E., need to be worried about North Korea?

MacWilliams explains, patiently, that there lately have been signs that the risk of some kind of attack by North Korea is increasing. The missiles the North Koreans have been firing into the sea are not the absurd acts of a lunatic mind but experiments. Obviously, the D.O.E. is not the only agency inside the U.S. government trying to make sense of these experiments, but the people inside the national labs are the world’s most qualified to determine just what North Korea’s missiles can do. “For a variety of reasons the risk curve has changed,” says MacWilliams guardedly. “The risks of mistakes being made and lots of people being killed is increasing dramatically. It wouldn’t necessarily be a nuclear weapon they might deliver. It could be sarin gas.”

As he doesn’t want to go into further detail and maybe divulge information I am not cleared to hear, I press him to move on. “O.K., give me the third risk on your list.”

“This is in no particular order,” he says with remarkable patience. “But Iran is somewhere in the top five.” He’d watched Secretary Moniz help negotiate the deal that removed from Iran the capacity to acquire a nuclear weapon. There were only three paths to a nuclear weapon. The Iranians might produce enriched uranium—but that required using centrifuges. They might produce plutonium—but that required a reactor that the deal had dismantled and removed. Or they might simply go out and buy a weapon on the open market. The national labs played a big role in policing all three paths. “These labs are incredible national resources, and they are directly responsible for keeping us safe,” said MacWilliams. “It’s because of  them that we can say with absolute certainty that Iran cannot surprise us with a nuclear weapon.” After the deal was done, U.S. Army officers had approached D.O.E. officials to thank them for saving American lives. The deal, they felt sure, had greatly lessened the chance of yet another war in the Middle East that the United States would inevitably be dragged into.

At any rate, the serious risk in Iran wasn’t that the Iranians would secretly acquire a weapon. It was that the president of the United States would not understand his nuclear scientists’ reasoning about the unlikelihood of the Iranians’ obtaining a weapon, and that he would have the United States back away foolishly from the deal. Released from the complicated set of restrictions on its nuclear-power program, Iran would then build its bomb. It wasn’t enough to have the world’s finest forensic nuclear physicists. Our political leaders needed to be predisposed to listen to them and equipped to understand what they say.

Yeah, well, never mind science—we’ll deal with Iran, I could hear some Trump person thinking to himself.


- More Here from Mike Lewis