Monday, May 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

Despite his image as a bloody tyrant, Genghis was also forward thinking. His empire had the first international postal system, invented the concept of diplomatic immunity, and even allowed women in its councils. But more importantly, the Mongols were also unprecedented in their religious tolerance.

- James Rollins, The Eye of God

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Quote of the Day

I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.

- Richard Feynman

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

This competition is unique among Kaggle contests in that there is a history of submissions from previous years. My idea was to model not only the probability of each team winning each game, but also the competitors’ submissions. Combining these models, I searched for the submission with the highest chance of finishing with a prize (top 5 on the leaderboard). A schematic of my approach is below. The three main processes are shaded in blue: (1) A model of the probability of winning each game, (2) a model of what the competitors are likely to submit, and (3) an optimization of my submission based on these two models.


[---]

Finally, I used these models to come up with an optimal submission by simulating the bracket and the competitions’ submissions 10,000 times. This essentially gave me 10,000 simulated leaderboards of the competitors and my goal was to find the submission that most frequently showed up in the top 5 of the leaderboard. I tried to use a general-purpose optimizer, but it was very slow and it gave poor results. Instead, I sampled pairs of probabilities from the posterior many times, and chose the pair that was in the top 5 the most times. If I had naively used the posterior mean as a submission, my estimated probability of being in the top 5 would have been 15%, while my estimated probability of for the optimized submission (with two entries) went up to 25%.

The competitors’ submission model was trained on 2015 data. To assess the quality of the model, I have plotted the simulated distribution of the leaderboard losses for 2016 and 2017 and compared to the actual leaderboards. 2016 seems well in line, but 2017 had more submissions with lower losses than predicted. For both years, the actual 5th place loss was right in line with what was expected.


March Machine Learning Mania, 1st Place Kaggle Winner's Interview

Quote of the Day




Friday, May 19, 2017

Quote of the Day

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’

- Jeff Bezos

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Quote of the Day

The vast majority of human beings dislike and even actually dread all notions with which they are not familiar... Hence it comes about that at their first appearance innovators have generally been persecuted, and always derided as fools and madmen.

- Aldous Huxley

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Quote of the Day

But Trump’s statements don’t necessarily come from anywhere, lead anywhere or have a permanent reality beyond his wish to be liked at any given instant.

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

“We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him,” David Roberts writes in Vox. “It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next. But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there is no there there?”

And out of that void comes a carelessness that quite possibly betrayed an intelligence source, and endangered a country.


- David Brooks

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Quote of the Day

Contrary to all expectations, I seem to grow happier as I grow older. I think that America has been sold on the theory that youth is marvelous but old age is a terror. On the contrary, it's taken me sixty years to learn how to live reasonably well, to do my work and cope with my inadequacies. For me youth was a woeful time—sick parents, war, relative poverty, the miseries of learning a profession, a mistake of a marriage, self-doubts, booze and blundering around. Old age is knowing what I'm doing, the respect of others, a relatively sane financial base, a loving wife and the realization that what I can't beat I can endure.

- George E. Vaillant, Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development

Monday, May 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.

- Jean-Luc Godard

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Quote of the Day

The great adventures of life, the surprise of strangers, of strangeness, of the electric and eclectic moments of happenstance, and also of extreme ambition, are slowly being removed by code as a path to a new contentment. We are using the acceleration of information transmission to decelerate changes in our physical world.

- Tyler Cowen, The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

The book in question, which publishes tomorrow, is The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World—and Us. It’s a “natural history of beauty and desire”—a smorgasbord of evolutionary biology, philosophy, and sociology, filtered through Prum’s experiences as a birdwatcher and his diverse research on everything from dinosaur colors to duck sex. Through compelling arguments and colorful examples, Prum launches a counterstrike against the adaptationist regime, in an attempt to “put the subjective experience of animals back in the center of biology” and to “bring beauty back to the sciences.”

The central idea that animates the book is a longstanding one that Prum has rebranded as the “Beauty Happens hypothesis.” It starts with animals developing random preferences—for colors, songs, displays, and more—which they use in choosing their mates. Their offspring inherit not only those sexy traits, but also the preference for them. By choosing what they like, choosers transform both the form and the objects of their desires.

Critically, all of this is arbitrary—not adaptive. Songs and ornaments and dances evolve not because they signal good genes but because animals just like them. They’re not objectively informative; they’re subjectively pleasing. Beauty, in other words, just happens. “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,” says Prum.

The originator of these ideas—Charles Darwin himself—suffered from similar problems. In The Descent of Man, he put forward an explicitly aesthetic view of sexual selection, in which animal beauty evolves because it’s pleasurable to the animals themselves. And despite the book’s title, Darwin spent many of its pages focusing on the choices of females, casting them as agents of their own evolution and arguing that their preferences were a powerful force behind nature’s diversity.

Darwin’s contemporaries were having none of it. They believed that animals didn’t have rich subjective worlds, lacking the mental abilities that had been divinely endowed to humans. And the idea of female animals making fine-grained choices seemed doubly preposterous to the Victorian patriarchy. One scientist wrote that female whims were so fickle that they could never act as a consistent source of selection. Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of evolutionary theory, also rejected Darwin’s ideas, insisting that beauty must be the result of adaptation, and that sexual selection is just another form of natural selection. In a feat of sheer chutzpah, he even claimed that his view was more Darwinian than Darwin’s in a book called Darwinism. “I can still remember wanting to throw Wallace around the room when I read that,” says Prum, who accuses the man of turning sexual selection into an ‘intellectually impoverished theory.’”

That legacy still infects evolutionary biology today. Consider orgasms, which Prum does at length in a later chapter. “There’s an entire field on the evolution of orgasm that’s devoid of any discussion of pleasure,” he says. “It’s stunningly bad science, and once more, it places male quality at the causal center.” For example, some researchers suggested that contractions produced during female orgasm are adaptations that allow women to better “upsuck”—no, really—the sperm of the best males. Others theorists suggested that female orgasm is the equivalent of male nipples—an inconsequential byproduct of natural selection acting on the opposite sex. Both ideas trivialize the sexual agency of women, Prum says, and completely fail to engage with the thing they’re actually trying to explain--women’s subjective experiences of sexual pleasure.

His counter-explanation is simple: During human evolution, women preferred to have sex with men who stimulated their own sexual pleasure, leading to co-evolution between female desire and male behaviors that met those desires. That’s why, compared to our closest ape relatives, human sex is much longer, involves a variety of positions, and isn’t tied to fertility cycles. It’s also why female orgasm isn’t necessary for actual procreation. “It may be the greatest testament to the power of aesthetic evolution,” Prum writes. “It’s sexual pleasure for its own sake, which has evolved purely as a consequence of women’s pursuit of pleasure.”


- Review of new book The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World—and Us by Richard Prum

Quote of the Day

But the answer isn't just to intimidate people into consuming more 'serious' news; it is to push so-called serious outlets into learning to present important information in ways that can properly engage audiences. It is too easy to claim that serious things must be, and can almost afford to be, a bit boring. The challenge is to transcend the current dichotomy between those outlets that offer thoughtful but impotent instruction on the one hand and those that provide sensationalism stripped of responsibility on the other.

- Alain de Botton, The News: A User's Manual

Friday, May 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

People care about animals. I believe that. They just don’t want to know or to pay. A fourth of all chickens have stress fractures. It’s wrong. They’re packed body to body, and can’t escape their waste, and never see the sun. Their nails grow around the bars of their cages. It’s wrong. They feel their slaughters. It’s wrong, and people know it’s wrong. They don’t have to be convinced. They just have to act differently. I’m not better than anyone, and I’m not trying to convince people to live by my standards of what’s right. I’m trying to convince them to live by their own.

- Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Reducing is a good thing. Reducing animals to food is not.

Environmentalists and animal rights activists both may aim to get people to entirely rethink their lifestyle. This includes switching to a plant-based diet, and also includes other changes, like not using products tested on animals. There are also other issues such as wasteless-living, traveling as little as possible, sharing or repairing instead of buying, switching to eco-friendly electricity, and using public transport services instead of buying a car — to name only a few things.

If someone stops consuming one of these things or reduces the amount of it, that’s a good thing as far as it goes. However, false justifications and moral licensing can be counterproductive. It is unhelpful for people to feel that it is acceptable to kill some animals because they already reduce their consumption.

Sure thing, reducing use of animal products might be a good idea. However, there’s no need to stop there. Eliminating use of water impossible. Eliminating use of paper is impractical. Eliminating use of animals’ bodies is totally achievable for nearly all people. Meat in general is a luxury.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

Ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success. It repulses advantages and opportunities. It’s a magnet for enemies and errors. It is Scylla and Charybdis.

Ego is the Enemy:The Fight to Master Our Greatest Opponent by Ryan Holiday

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

I begin with humility, I act with humility, I end with humility. Humility leads to clarity. Humility leads to an open mind and a forgiving heart. With an open mind and a forgiving heart, I see every person as superior to me in some way; with every person as my teacher, I grow in wisdom. As I grow in wisdom, humility becomes ever more my guide. I begin with humility, I act with humility, I end with humility.

- Resilience by Eric Greitens

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.

- The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Monday, May 8, 2017

Quote of the Day

The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.

- The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Quote of the Day

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.

- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

In Early September 1939, the citizens of London set about killing their pets. During the first four days of World War II, over 400,000 dogs and cats — some 26 percent of London’s pets — were slaughtered, a number six times greater than the number of civilian deaths in the UK from bombing during the entire war. It was a calm and orderly massacre. One animal shelter had a line stretching half a mile long with people waiting to turn their animals over to be euthanized. Crematoriums were overrun with the corpses of beloved dogs and cats; the fact that they could not run at night due to blackout conditions mandating the extinguishing of all manmade light sources so as not to aid German bombers’ navigation, further added to the backlog. Animal welfare societies ran out of chloroform, and shelters ran out of burial grounds. One local sanatorium offered a meadow, where half a million pets’ bodies were interred.

None of this was done out of any real necessity. Supplies were not yet scarce. The German blitzkrieg was not yet underway, and wouldn’t begin in earnest until September of the following year. Nor did the British government issue directives or instructions telling its citizens to kill their pets for the greater good of the Empire. Rather, it was a mass action that arose, apparently spontaneously, by a populace terrified by the new reality of war.


Almost immediately, people realized what a mistake they had made. By November, the Times was lamenting that “there is daily evidence that large numbers of pet dogs are still being destroyed for no better reason than that it is inconvenient to keep them alive — which, of course, is no reason at all, but merely shows an owner’s inability to appreciate his obligations towards his animal.” The BBC’s first disc jockey, Christopher Stone, likewise railed against the massacre on his popular radio program that same month, arguing that “[t]o destroy a faithful friend when there is no need to do so, is yet another way of letting the war creep into your home.” By then, the wholesale killing of pets had abated, and many of the animals who survived those first four days would last through the war. But the damage had already been done.

The Great Cat and Dog Massacre: The Real Story of World War Two’s Unknown Tragedy, a new book by the historian Hilda Kean, sets out to understand how and why these horrific events took place. Despite its subtitle, it does not provide much in the way of a narrative of the massacre itself; the actual incidents of September 1939 occupy only one of nine chapters. Rather, Kean works backward and forward from that month to understand why British pet owners killed their dogs and cats in such large numbers, as well as to understand the legacy of that event. World War II, she observes, has long been known as the “People’s War” in Britain, “when, so the story goes, people pulled together and stood firm against the Nazis […] and withstood aerial bombardment with resilience.” But what about the Pets’ War? Writing about the conflict from the perspective of animals means approaching the subject obliquely, searching for traces that have been obscured, ferreting out voices among the voiceless. As such, Kean’s book works around the margins of World War II’s documentation: in diaries and letters, scattered asides in newspaper reports, unpublished memoirs, and forgotten advertisements. A passage in a young girl’s diary regarding a beloved pet rabbit bears for Kean far more useful information than an official state account. It is only in such marginal places that London’s lost animals appear.


- Review of The Great Cat and Dog Massacre: The Real Story of World War Two’s Unknown Tragedy by Hilda Kean


Friday, May 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

For once, he could look back at the past without regret, and at the future without bewilderment. Simply and touchingly, he wrote in his diary: “I have had so much happiness in my life so far that I feel, no matter what sorrows come, the joys will have overbalanced them.

- The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Quote of the Day

When you show yourself to the world and display your talents, you naturally stir all kinds of resentment, envy, and other manifestations of insecurity… you cannot spend your life worrying about the petty feelings of others.

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Quote of the Day

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

- The Art of War by Sun Tzu


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Quote of the Day

Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of — that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.

Ego is the Enemy:The Fight to Master Our Greatest Opponent by Ryan Holiday


Monday, May 1, 2017

Quote of the Day

It is exceptional that one should be able to acquire the understanding of a process without having previously acquired a deep familiarity with running it, with using it, before one has assimilated it in an instinctive and empirical way…. Thus any discussion of the nature of intellectual effort in any field is difficult, unless it presupposes an easy, routine familiarity with that field. In mathematics this limitation becomes very severe.

- John von Neumann

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Walking and Thinking !

What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.

The way we move our bodies further changes the nature of our thoughts, and vice versa. Psychologists who specialize in exercise music have quantified what many of us already know: listening to songs with high tempos motivates us to run faster, and the swifter we move, the quicker we prefer our music. Likewise, when drivers hear loud, fast music, they unconsciously step a bit harder on the gas pedal. Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. When we stroll, the pace of our feet naturally vacillates with our moods and the cadence of our inner speech; at the same time, we can actively change the pace of our thoughts by deliberately walking more briskly or by slowing down.

Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre. This is precisely the kind of mental state that studies have linked to innovative ideas and strokes of insight. Earlier this year, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz of Stanford published what is likely the first set of studies that directly measure the way walking changes creativity in the moment. They got the idea for the studies while on a walk. “My doctoral advisor had the habit of going for walks with his students to brainstorm,” Oppezzo says of Schwartz. “One day we got kind of meta.”


- More Here

Quote of the Day

Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret.

Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really.

You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation, “far removed from the seats of strife,” as the early explorer and botanist William Bartram put it. All that is required of you is a willingness to trudge.

There is no point in hurrying because you are not actually going anywhere. However far or long you plod, you are always in the same place: in the woods. It’s where you were yesterday, where you will be tomorrow. The woods is one boundless singularity. Every bend in the path presents a prospect indistinguishable from every other, every glimpse into the trees the same tangled mass. For all you know, your route could describe a very large, pointless circle. In a way, it would hardly matter.

At times, you become almost certain that you slabbed this hillside three days ago, crossed this stream yesterday, clambered over this fallen tree at least twice today already. But most of the time you don’t think. No point. Instead, you exist in a kind of mobile Zen mode, your brain like a balloon tethered with string, accompanying but not actually part of the body below. Walking for hours and miles becomes as automatic, as unremarkable, as breathing. At the end of the day you don’t think, “Hey, I did sixteen miles today,” any more than you think, “Hey, I took eight-thousand breaths today.” It’s just what you do.


- Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Wisdom of the Week

The neocortex had turned humans into magicians. Not only had he made the human head a wondrous internal ocean of complex thoughts, his latest breakthrough had found a way to translate those thoughts into a symbolic set of sounds and send them vibrating through the air into the heads of other humans, who could then decode the sounds and absorb the embedded idea into their own internal thought oceans. The human neocortex had been thinking about things for a long time—and he finally had someone to talk about it all with.

A neocortex party ensued. Neocortexes—fine—neocortices shared everything with each other—stories from their past, funny jokes they had thought of, opinions they had formed, plans for the future.

But most useful was sharing what they had learned. If one human learned through trial and error that a certain type of berry led to 48 hours of your life being run by diarrhea, they could use language to share the hard-earned lesson with the rest of their tribe, like photocopying the lesson and handing it to everyone else. Tribe members would then use language to pass along that lesson to their children, and their children would pass it to their own children. Rather than the same mistake being made again and again by many different people, one person’s “stay away from that berry” wisdom could travel through space and time to protect everyone else from having their bad experience.

The same thing would happen when one human figured out a new clever trick. One unusually-intelligent hunter particularly attuned to both star constellations and the annual migration patterns of wildebeest1 herds could share a system he devised that used the night sky to determine exactly how many days remained until the herd would return. Even though very few hunters would have been able to come up with that system on their own, through word-of-mouth, all future hunters in the tribe would now benefit from the ingenuity of one ancestor, with that one hunter’s crowning discovery serving as every future hunter’s starting point of knowledge.

[---]


Another professor, Jeff Lichtman, is even harsher. He starts off his courses by asking his students the question, “If everything you need to know about the brain is a mile, how far have we walked in this mile?” He says students give answers like three-quarters of a mile, half a mile, a quarter of a mile, etc.—but that he believes the real answer is “about three inches.”

A third professor, neuroscientist Moran Cerf, shared with me an old neuroscience saying that points out why trying to master the brain is a bit of a catch-22: “If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.”

[---]

BMIs won’t sweep the world as long as you need to go in for skull-opening surgery to get involved.

This is a major topic at Neuralink. I think the word “non-invasive” or “non-invasively” came out of someone’s mouth like 42 times in my discussions with the team.

On top of being both a major barrier to entry and a major safety issue, invasive brain surgery is expensive and in limited supply. Elon talked about an eventual BMI-implantation process that could be automated: “The machine to accomplish this would need to be something like Lasik, an automated process—because otherwise you just get constrained by the limited number of neural surgeons, and the costs are very high. You’d need a Lasik-like machine ultimately to be able to do this at scale.”

Making BMIs high-bandwidth alone would be a huge deal, as would developing a way to non-invasively implant devices. But doing both would start a revolution.

[---]


Often, the battle in our heads between our prefrontal cortex and limbic system comes down to the fact that both parties are trying to do what’s best for us—it’s just that our limbic system is wrong about what it thinks is best for us because it thinks we live in a tribe 50,000 years ago.

Your limbic system isn’t making you eat your ninth Starburst candy in a row because it’s a dick—it’s making you eat it because it thinks that A) any fruit that sweet and densely chewy must be super rich in calories and B) you might not find food again for the next four days so it’s a good idea to load up on a high-calorie food whenever the opportunity arises.

Meanwhile, your prefrontal cortex is just watching in horror like “WHY ARE WE DOING THIS.”

But Moran believes that a good brain interface could fix this problem.

Consider eating a chocolate cake. While eating, we feed data to our cognitive apparatus. These data provide the enjoyment of the cake. The enjoyment isn’t in the cake, per se, but in our neural experience of it. Decoupling our sensory desire (the experience of cake) from the underlying survival purpose (nutrition) will soon be within our reach.

This concept of “sensory decoupling” would make so much sense if we could pull it off. You could get the enjoyment of eating like shit without actually putting shit in your body. Instead, Moran says, what would go in your body would be “nutrition inputs customized for each person based on genomes, microbiomes or other factors. Physical diets released from the tyranny of desire.”

The same principle could apply to things like sex, drugs, alcohol, and other pleasures that get people into trouble, healthwise or otherwise.

Ramez Naam talks about how a brain interface could also help us win the discipline battle when it comes to time.

We know that stimulating the right centers in the brain can induce sleep or alertness, hunger or satiation, ease or stimulation, as quick as the flip of a switch. Or, if you’re running code, on a schedule. (Siri: Put me to sleep until 7:30, high priority interruptions only. And let’s get hungry for lunch around noon. Turn down the sugar cravings, though.)Want to hear what a dog hears? That’s easy. The pitch range we can hear is limited by the dimensions of our cochlea—but pitches out of the ear’s range can be sent straight into our auditory nerve.
[---]

Or maybe you want a new sense. You love bird watching and want to be able to sense when there’s a bird nearby. So you buy an infrared camera that can detect bird locations by their heat signals and you link it to your brain interface, which stimulates neurons in a certain way to alert you to the presence of a bird and tell you its location. I can’t describe what you’d experience when it alerts you, because I’ll just say words like “feel” or “see,” because I can only imagine the five senses we have. But in the future, there will be more words for new, useful types of senses.

You could also dim or shut off parts of a sense, like pain perhaps. Pain is the body’s way of telling us we need to address something, but in the future, we’ll elect to get that information in much less unpleasant formats.


- Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future by Tim Urban


Quote of the Day




Friday, April 28, 2017

Quote of the Day

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

- C.G. Jung

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Philosophers @ Silicon Valley

But Scott Berkun, a former Microsoft manager and philosophy major who has written multiple business books on the subject, says philosophy’s lessons are lost on most in Silicon Valley. Many focus on aggrandizing the self, rather than pursuing a well-examined purpose. “If you put Socrates in a room during a pitch session, I think he’d be dismayed at so many young people investing their time in ways that do not make the world or themselves any better,” he said.

Silicon Valley’s strivers might find happiness by rethinking their definition of “success.” Stoics had something to say about this. Far from being emotionless scolds as the name suggest today, says Irvine, Stoics were early psychologists who sought to rid us of illusions that bring misery. By refocusing on what truly matters, people can find joy and purpose in their daily lives. As Irvine puts it, why “spend your life in an affluent form of misery when it’s possible to have a much simpler life that would be much more rewarding?”


- More Here

Quote of the Day

What is needed, however, isn't just that people working together be nice to each other. It is discipline.
Discipline is hard--harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can't even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.

- Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What I've Been Reading

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger.

What a book !! Sebastain has hit the bull's eye distilling the human condition in this small book. He takes Charles Murray's Blowing Alone to the next level.

For a former soldier to miss the clarity and importance of his wartime duty is one thing, but for civilians to is quite another. 'Whatever I say about war, I still hate it, " one survivor, Nidzara Ahmentasevic made sure to tell me after I'd interviewed her about the nostalgia of her generation. "I do miss something from the war.  But I also believe that the world we are living in - and the peace that we have - is very fucked up if somebody is missing war. And many people do. 

Quote of the Day

Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness.

-  Richard Carlson

Monday, April 24, 2017

Quote of the Day

And last are the few whose delight is in meditation and understanding; who yearn not for goods, nor for victory, but for knowledge; who leave both market and battlefield to lose themselves in the quiet clarity of secluded thought; whose will is a light rather than a fire, whose haven is not power but truth: these are the men of wisdom, who stand aside unused by the world.

- Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Quote of the Day

According to Buddhism, the root of suffering is neither the feeling of pain nor of sadness nor even of meaninglessness. Rather, the real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, which causes us to be in a constant state of tension, restlessness and dissatisfaction. Due to this pursuit, the mind is never satisfied. Even when experiencing pleasure, it is not content, because it fears this feeling might soon disappear, and craves that this feeling should stay and intensify. People are liberated from suffering not when they experience this or that fleeting pleasure, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings, and stop craving them. This is the aim of Buddhist meditation practices. In meditation, you are supposed to closely observe your mind and body, witness the ceaseless arising and passing of all your feelings, and realise how pointless it is to pursue them. When the pursuit stops, the mind becomes very relaxed, clear and satisfied. All kinds of feelings go on arising and passing – joy, anger, boredom, lust – but once you stop craving particular feelings, you can just accept them for what they are. You live in the present moment instead of fantasising about what might have been. The resulting serenity is so profound that those who spend their lives in the frenzied pursuit of pleasant feelings can hardly imagine it. It is like a man standing for decades on the seashore, embracing certain ‘good’ waves and trying to prevent them from disintegrating, while simultaneously pushing back ‘bad’ waves to prevent them from getting near him. Day in, day out, the man stands on the beach, driving himself crazy with this fruitless exercise. Eventually, he sits down on the sand and just allows the waves to come and go as they please. How peaceful!

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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Naked mole rats are tough creatures — they can withstand cancer, pain, and even survive 18 minute stretches without any oxygen. And now, scientists have a better idea of how the super rodents can survive that long without suffocating. The findings, published today in the journal Science, could one day help researchers figure out how to keep humans healthy when oxygen gets cut off by strokes or heart failure.

Naked mole rats are wrinkly, hairless, poop-eating, delightful creatures that live in large colonies of up to 280 animals. They spend their lives crawling through tunnel networks beneath the deserts of Africa — where the air can get a little stuffy, and very low on oxygen. On the surface, carbon dioxide makes up less than one percent of the gases we breathe. But in these tunnels, carbon dioxide can account for 7 to 10 percent of the warm, close air.

For most creatures, these conditions would be unlivable. We need oxygen to survive, because oxygen is key for generating the energy our bodies rely on to function. Cut off the oxygen, and we humans start hyperventilating, panicking, and having acid build up in our tissues. In the long run, we can experience serious brain damage, or even death.

But even if oxygen is low, the naked mole rats are … fine. And scientists wanted to understand how that’s possible. So, after getting approval from an ethics committee, the researchers led by put naked mole rats in atmospheric chambers — basically, sealed tubes — and started dialing back the oxygen levels. They saw that, even when oxygen levels dropped to just five percent of the gases in the tube (atmospheric oxygen levels are typically closer to 21 percent) the rats were fine for five hours. Mice, by contrast, suffocated and died after just 15 minutes.

When the oxygen was completely removed and replaced with nitrogen, the mice died after 45 seconds. The naked mole rats passed out. But even after 18 minutes of no oxygen, they recovered when they were put back in normal air. (30 minutes of no oxygen was another story — they died.)

So how do the naked mole rats do it? Apparently, the rodents go into a kind of suspended animation, which reduces their little bodies’ energy demands. What’s more, the researchers discovered that fructose levels rose in the naked mole rats’ tissues compared to in mice. They also found pumps that funnel fructose into cells in the heart and brain — whereas in mice, these pumps are mainly in the kidneys. That suggests the naked mole rats switched to a kind of oxygen-free metabolism that relied on fructose, instead of glucose.


- More Here

The Crisis of Western Civilization

Finally, there has been the collapse of liberal values at home. On American campuses, fragile thugs who call themselves students shout down and abuse speakers on a weekly basis. To read Heather MacDonald’s account of being pilloried at Claremont McKenna College is to enter a world of chilling intolerance.

In America, the basic fabric of civic self-government seems to be eroding following the loss of faith in democratic ideals. According to a study published in The Journal of Democracy, the share of young Americans who say it is absolutely important to live in a democratic country has dropped from 91 percent in the 1930s to 57 percent today.

While running for office, Donald Trump violated every norm of statesmanship built up over these many centuries, and it turned out many people didn’t notice or didn’t care.

The faith in the West collapsed from within. It’s amazing how slow people have been to rise to defend it.


There have been a few lonely voices. Andrew Michta laments the loss of Western confidence in an essay in The American Interest. Edward Luce offers a response in his forthcoming book “The Retreat of Western Liberalism.” But liberalism has been docile in defense of itself.

These days, the whole idea of Western civ is assumed to be reactionary and oppressive. All I can say is, if you think that was reactionary and oppressive, wait until you get a load of the world that comes after it.


- That's  from David Brooks. I have been reading a lot of "mild" pessimism like this. One beautiful passage from Yuval Harari's new book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow  exposes how Sapiens overcome future prediction by the phenomena of "Paradox of Historical Knowledge":

Marx forgot that capitalists know how to read. At first only a handful of disciples took Marx seriously and read his writings. But as these socialists firebrands gained adherents and power, the capitalists became alarmed. They too perused Das Kapital, adopting many tools and insights of Marxist analysis.

[---]
As people adopted to Marxist diagnosis, they changed their behavior accordingly. Capitalists in countries such as Britain and France strove to better the lot of the workers, strengthen their national consciousness and integrate them into the political system. Consequently, when workers began voting in elections and Labour gained power in one country after other, the capitalists could still sleep soundly in their beds. As a result, Marx's predictions came to naught. This is the paradox of historical knowledge. Knowledge that does not change behavior is useless. But knowledge that changes behavior quickly loses its relevance. More data we have and the better we understand history, the faster history alters its course and the faster our knowledge becomes outdated. 

The factors who are the root cause for these "mild" pessimism will learn from these predictions and might make sure that the "mildness" needs to be eradicated. It's important to note that people didn't change, capitalists changed their behavior after reading Marx. So your guess is as good as mine on who I will be betting on changing the behavior.

Quote of the Day

The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency -- the belief that the here and now is all there is.

- Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind

Friday, April 21, 2017

Quote of the Day

The anthropologists got it wrong when they named our species Homo sapiens ('wise man'). In any case it's an arrogant and bigheaded thing to say, wisdom being one of our least evident features. In reality, we are Pan narrans, the storytelling chimpanzee.

- Terry Pratchett, The Science of Discworld II: The Globe

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Quote of the Day

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

- Calvin Coolidge

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Quote of the Day

If you think that being vegan is difficult, imagine being a factory farmed animal.

- Davegan Raza

Monday, April 17, 2017

Quote of the Day

Let me put it formally: If we ask what are the domains through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life—achieve happiness—the answer is that there are just four: family, vocation, community, and faith, with these provisos: Community can embrace people who are scattered geographically. Vocation can include avocations or causes. It is not necessary for any individual to make use of all four domains, nor do I array them in a hierarchy. I merely assert that these four are all there are. The stuff of life occurs within those four domains.

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Why Do Democrats Feel Sorry for Hillary Clinton?

And so I find myself wondering at odd times of the day and night: Why is Trump in the White House? And then I remember. Hillary Clinton put him there.

Every day, the incoherence deepens: He’s going to cover “everyone,” but he’s going to push 24 million people off their health insurance. He’s going to wipe out the debt, but his tax cuts and spending spree will add trillions to it. He’s never going to intervene in Syria, but he just did. He’s going to get Mexico to pay for a big, beautiful wall, but he isn’t. China is a currency manipulator, but it isn’t. The media is the enemy of the people, but he is on the phone with them every five minutes and can’t stop watching CNN and reading the New York Times. He’s going to be a tightwad with taxpayers’ money, unlike Obama, but his personal travel expenses are on track to be eight times more than his predecessor’s. He’s going to work relentlessly for the American people but he spends half his days watching cable news. We’ve got to be “very, very tough” in foreign affairs, but when he sees dead babies on TV, he immediately calls General Mattis and lobs 59 Tomahawk missiles. He has a secret plan to defeat ISIS, but pursues Obama’s strategy instead. He is for the “forgotten men and women” of America, but his tax plan — which is itself changing all the time — benefits the superrich and depends on removing health insurance for the working poor. He wants to be friends with Russia, but he doesn’t. He’s going to challenge China’s policy on Taiwan, but he isn’t. He is against crony capitalism, but he is for it. He’s going to keep the focus on America, but just upped the ante in Yemen and Afghanistan. He’s a deal-maker, but he cannot make deals even with his own party. He’s a great manager, but his White House is consumed with in-fighting and he cannot staff his own administration. He’s a populist who stacks his cabinet with Goldman Sachs alums. He’s going to pressure China to take on North Korea, but “after listening for ten minutes” to China’s dictator, he changes his mind.

I could go on. You can try to argue that Trump has simply pivoted to the center, like so many other presidents before him. But the statements he has made in just the last six months, and the policies he has pursued for the last three, have gyrated so wildly, have so little consistency, and make so little sense that there is no assurance that in another three months, he won’t be back where he started, or somewhere even more clusterfucked.


-  Andrew Sullivan


What on earth is the point of trying to understand him when there is nothing to understand? Calling him a liar is true enough, but liars have some cognitive grip on reality, and he doesn’t. Liars remember what they have said before. His brain is a neural Etch A Sketch. He doesn’t speak, we realize; he emits random noises. He refuses to take responsibility for anything. He can accuse his predecessor and Obama’s national security adviser of crimes, and provide no evidence for either. He has no strategy beyond the next 24 hours, no guiding philosophy, no politics, no consistency at all — just whatever makes him feel good about himself this second. He therefore believes whatever bizarre nonfact he can instantly cook up in his addled head, or whatever the last person who spoke to him said. He makes Chauncey Gardiner look like Abraham Lincoln. Occam’s razor points us to the obvious: He has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. Which is reassuring and still terrifying all at once.

Quote of the Day

If librarians were honest, they would say, No one spends time here without being changed…

- Maria Popova

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

In establishing the Academy, Plato didn’t forsake the people of the agora, who, as citizens, had to deliberate responsibly about issues of moral and political import. It was with these issues in mind that he wrote his dialogues—great works of literature as well as of philosophy. The dialogues may not represent his true philosophy (in the Seventh Letter, he explained that he had never committed his teachings to writing), but for more than 2,400 years they’ve been good enough for us, as inspiring and exasperating as Socrates himself must have been.

In 25 out of Plato’s 26 dialogues—and we have them all—Socrates is present, often as the leading spokesperson for the ideas that Plato is exploring, though sometimes, in the later dialogues, as a silent bystander. It’s as if Plato wants to take Socrates along with him on the intellectual quest he pursues during the course of his long life. It’s as if he wants us, too, to take Socrates along as we return again and again to the Herculean effort of applying reason to our most fervently held assumptions. Socrates’s message could not be more timely. The mantle of glorified greatness belongs to no society by right or by might, or by revered tradition, he taught. It belongs to no individual who, ignoring the claims of justice, strives to make a name that might outlast him. Exceptionalism has to be earned again and again, generation after generation, by citizens committed, together, to the endlessly hard work of sustaining a polity that strives to serve the good of all.


- Making Athens Great Again, Rebecca Goldstein

Sachin A Billion Dreams - A Movie




Quote of the Day

Python is a truly wonderful language. When somebody comes up with a good idea it takes about 1 minute and five lines to program something that almost does what you want. Then it takes only an hour to extend the script to 300 lines, after which it still does almost what you want.

- Jack Jansen

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Appalling Silence of Good People

What we do to others, we also do to ourselves.

I can either be a messenger to my students and all those around me for social justice, diversity, and inclusion, and prepare my students for the intersectionality among cultures that is part of America’s past, present, and future, or continue to hold on to the white privilege that I don’t deserve.

I can preach that same-sex marriage contributes to a greater conversation of the fullness of love among people and between individuals — that condemning same-sex love and attraction as anything less than heterosexual relationships attacks the very concept that love is something that all people are worthy of and deserve. Or I can sit and wait, hoping for the increasing inevitability that legally I will be able to marry, but live with the fact that my value as a person will be unequal based on stigma.

I can fight the use of words and phrases like “my country,” “illegal aliens,” or “go back to your home” that are thrown around at undocumented immigrants because they treat real live human beings as if they are anything less than a person, and remind my fellow Americans that our social, civil, and human rights are strengthened by offering them to all people — that all are deserving, or I continue to just be a white person who has an opinion when the issue comes to mind and is hollowly sympathetic.

I can ask those who have decided who is undeserving of equal rights — rights that they themselves have received based on their birth — to consider where we derive our freedoms, and how others obtain freedom, or I can continue to live without integrity and relish in the bastardized version of freedom I enjoy that I don’t deserve.

Every time I’m lukewarmly supportive, rather than being a passionate believer in social justice, I tell the world that I don’t care about others, and I certainly don’t care about myself. Dr. King had incredible foresight to notice how the Civil Rights Movement intersected across cultures when he shared that history would render judgement on a post-civil rights movement by saying in his Letter from Birmingham Jail that “we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” I just can’t stand to be anything less than authentic. If any one of us truly believes and values the concept of liberty and justice for all, it starts from understanding that the most gift we give others is the brotherhood or sisterhood that is inextricably tied to humanity.


- More Here


Quote of the Day

Human nature was such that individuals could respond to reason, to the call of justice, and even to the love perfection of the religious spirit, but nations, corporations, labor unions, and other large social groups would always be selfish.

- Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63

Thursday, April 13, 2017

President Cory Booker on Tim's Podcast !

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
Brilliant and enlightening interview for our future President Cory Booker. I really want to scream... man why are you in politics... but politics needs him and we need him.

- Listen to the podcast here

Quote of the Day

If you want to really hurt you parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

- Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say "I think," "I am," but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance and Other Essays

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Quote of the Day

When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.

- Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Monday, April 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.

- Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screenplay

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Octopuses Do Something Really Strange to Their Genes - It Might be Connected to their Extraordinary Intelligence

A team of scientists led by Joshua Rosenthal at the Marine Biological Laboratory and Eli Eisenberg at Tel Aviv University have shown that octopuses and their relatives—the cephalopods—practice a type of genetic alteration called RNA editing that’s very rare in the rest of the animal kingdom. They use it to fine-tune the information encoded by their genes without altering the genes themselves. And they do so extensively, to a far greater degree than any other animal group.

“They presented this work at a recent conference, and it was a big surprise to everyone,” says Kazuko Nishikura from the Wistar Institute. “I study RNA editing in mice and humans, where it’s very restricted. The situation is very different here. I wonder if it has to do with their extremely developed brains.”

It certainly seems that way. Rosenthal and Eisenberg found that RNA editing is especially rife in the neurons of cephalopods. They use it to re-code genes that are important for their nervous systems—the genes that, as Rosenthal says, “make a nerve cell a nerve cell.” And only the intelligent coleoid cephalopods—octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish—do so. The relatively dumber nautiluses do not. “Humans don’t have this. Monkeys don’t. Nothing has this except the coleoids,” says Rosenthal.

It’s impossible to say if their prolific use of RNA editing is responsible for their alien intellect, but “that would definitely be my guess,” says Noa Liscovitch-Brauer, a member of Rosenthal’s team who spearheaded the new study. “It makes for a very compelling hypothesis in my eyes.”

[---]

Rosenthal thinks that they pay for this sacrifice with a different kind of flexibility. By changing their RNA rather than their DNA, they might be more effective at adapting to challenges on the fly. From the same gene, they could produce proteins that, say, work better in hot temperatures or cold ones. And such changes would be temporary—the creatures could turn them on or off depending on the circumstance. Rosenthal wonders if they could learn or encode experiences in this way. “I’m working a lot on the squid ADAR enzymes and their distribution between cells,” he says. “It’s mind-blowing how variable they are. One neuron will have high levels but its neighbor will have nothing.”

“This study suggests that RNA editing and recoding is important in the function of the largest invertebrate brains,” says Carrie Albertin from the University of Chicago, who helped to sequence the first cephalopod genome. “By comparing vertebrate and cephalopod brains, we can understand how large nervous systems are put together.”

“It’s a really interesting phenomenon, but it’s unclear why they need so much RNA editing,” says Jianzhi Zhang from the University of Michigan. “It’s not absolutely clear if it has to do with behavior; humans have very complex brains and behaviors and in us, RNA editing is very rare.” The question isn’t just why coleoid cephalopods are unique in embracing RNA editing, but why nothing else has to the same extent.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

Learning is physical. Learning means the modification, growth, and pruning of our neurons, connections called synapses and neuronal networks, through experience…When we do so, we are cultivating our own neuronal networks. We become our own gardeners.

- Dr. James Zull, Professor of Biology and Biochemistry at Case Western University

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Parfit had a native genius for philosophy. But he also devoted more time and concentrated effort to the development of his ideas than any other philosopher I have known. He once mentioned a passage in a book of economic history that noted that the concept of work had sometimes been understood in such a way that work was necessarily unpleasant. On this understanding, Parfit almost never worked. Yet throughout his adult life he did little other than think about, read, and write philosophy. When I visited Oxford in January and February of 2014, I stayed in his house. During those months, he left the house only a few times. In all but one instance, he left only to walk a few blocks to buy fruits and vegetables for his spartan meals. The other instance was when he walked with me to an appointment I had so that we could continue the philosophical discussion we were having. The one exception to his monomaniacal commitment to his philosophy was his architectural photography, samples of which appear on the covers of his four books. But he gave that up many years ago when he came to fear that he might not live long enough to complete his remaining work in philosophy.

There are many anecdotes about the ways in which Parfit simplified his life to take as little time as possible away from his work. He ate only twice a day, with almost no variation in what he had at each meal. He ate cold food only, mostly fruits and vegetables without any preparation. Even when he could have had freshly ground coffee with only a minute’s additional preparation, he drank instant coffee, often with water straight from the tap. He sometimes kept a book open on the chest-of-drawers so that he could read while putting on his socks. His speed in reading was phenomenal, in part because his power of concentration was prodigious. Wanting to preserve his mental and physical capacities, he took an hour every evening during his last decade to get vigorous exercise on a stationary bicycle, but never without reading philosophy (or occasionally physics) while furiously pedalling.

Parfit’s kindness and generosity, not only to his students and friends but to others as well, are legendary. The comments he gave to people on their manuscripts were sometimes longer than the manuscripts themselves, and the comments were invariably articulated in the gentlest, most tactful, encouraging, and constructive way possible. He frequently wept, not for himself but always from compassion for others.

A couple of years ago, when he was teaching at Rutgers, he experienced a confluence of medical problems that urgently required that he be anesthetized and placed on a ventilator. When he was allowed to emerge from the sedation nearly 24 hours later, he groggily gestured for pen and paper. His first scribbled thoughts were concerns about his teaching commitments and a thesis defence in which he was supposed to participate at Harvard. When the ventilator tube was removed and he could again speak, he immediately began to discuss with me the ideas and arguments on which he had been working when I had to rush him to the emergency room. That he was in the intensive care unit seemed not to interest him, and he was largely incurious about what had happened and about what his diagnosis and prognosis were. Even in those circumstances, it was his ideas that mattered most.

The next day, Johann Frick, the graduate student whose thesis Parfit was scheduled to examine, came for a visit, during which Parfit delightedly insisted on discussing the thesis with him for several hours. A nurse, having noticed how many visitors Parfit had had, exclaimed, “Jesus Christ had only 12 disciples – but look at you! You’re clearly a very important man. What do you do?” “I work,” Parfit replied with a smile, “on what matters.”


Jeff McMahan says farewell to a friend

Quote of the Day

The ethical system of the Assassins is that political assassination help prevent war; threat of the dagger-by-your-bed variety are even better for bloodless control[1]. They supposedly aimed at sparing civilians and people who were not directly targeted. The methods focusing on precision meant to reduce what is now called civilian “collateral damage”.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Friday, April 7, 2017

Algorithm Tips

An awesome site:
This is a growing list of potentially newsworthy algorithms used by the U.S. government. As more decisions are influenced by algorithms, more algorithmic accountability may be needed. But where to start? Here, you can find algorithms warranting a closer look. 

A.I. VERSUS M.D. - Siddhartha Mukherjee

“A deep-learning system doesn’t have any explanatory power,” as Hinton put it flatly. A black box cannot investigate cause. Indeed, he said, “the more powerful the deep-learning system becomes, the more opaque it can become. As more features are extracted, the diagnosis becomes increasingly accurate. Why these features were extracted out of millions of other features, however, remains an unanswerable question.” The algorithm can solve a case. It cannot build a case.

Yet in my own field, oncology, I couldn’t help noticing how often advances were made by skilled practitioners who were also curious and penetrating researchers. Indeed, for the past few decades, ambitious doctors have strived to be at once baseball players and physicists: they’ve tried to use diagnostic acumen to understand the pathophysiology of disease. Why does an asymmetrical border of a skin lesion predict a melanoma? Why do some melanomas regress spontaneously, and why do patches of white skin appear in some of these cases? As it happens, this observation, made by diagnosticians in the clinic, was eventually linked to the creation of some of the most potent immunological medicines used clinically today. (The whitening skin, it turned out, was the result of an immune reaction that was also turning against the melanoma.) The chain of discovery can begin in the clinic. If more and more clinical practice were relegated to increasingly opaque learning machines, if the daily, spontaneous intimacy between implicit and explicit forms of knowledge—knowing how, knowing that, knowing why—began to fade, is it possible that we’d get better at doing what we do but less able to reconceive what we ought to be doing, to think outside the algorithmic black box?

I spoke to David Bickers, the chair of dermatology at Columbia, about our automated future. “Believe me, I’ve tried to understand all the ramifications of Thrun’s paper,” he said. “I don’t understand the math behind it, but I do know that such algorithms might change the practice of dermatology. Will dermatologists be out of jobs? I don’t think so, but I think we have to think hard about how to integrate these programs into our practice. How will we pay for them? What are the legal liabilities if the machine makes the wrong prediction? And will it diminish our practice, or our self-image as diagnosticians, to rely on such algorithms? Instead of doctors, will we end up training a generation of technicians?”

He checked the time. A patient was waiting to see him, and he got up to leave. “I’ve spent my life as a diagnostician and a scientist,” he said. “I know how much a patient relies on my capacity to tell a malignant lesion from a benign one. I also know that medical knowledge emerges from diagnosis.”

The word “diagnosis,” he reminded me, comes from the Greek for “knowing apart.” Machine-learning algorithms will only become better at such knowing apart—at partitioning, at distinguishing moles from melanomas. But knowing, in all its dimensions, transcends those task-focussed algorithms. In the realm of medicine, perhaps the ultimate rewards come from knowing together.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

The point is this: if you cannot separate the phenotype of mental illness from creative impulses, then you cannot separate the genotype of mental illness and creative impulse.

- Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Quote of the Day

You can't stop things like Bitcoin. It will be everywhere and the world will have to readjust. World governments will have to readjust.

- John McAfee, Founder of McAfee

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I have never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.

- Charles F. Kettering

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Quantum Questions Inspire New Math

Mathematics has the wonderful ability to connect different worlds. The most overlooked symbol in any equation is the humble equal sign. Ideas flow through it, as if the equal sign conducts the electric current that illuminates the “Aha!” lightbulb in our mind. And the double lines indicate that ideas can flow in both directions. Albert Einstein was an absolute master of finding equations that exemplify this property. Take E = mc2, without a doubt the most famous equation in history. In all its understated elegance, it connects the physical concepts of mass and energy that were seen as totally distinct before the advent of relativity. Through Einstein’s equation we learn that mass can be transformed into energy, and vice versa. The equation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, although less catchy and well-known, links the worlds of geometry and matter in an equally surprising and beautiful manner. A succinct way to summarize that theory is that mass tells space how to curve, and space tells mass how to move.

Mirror symmetry is another perfect example of the power of the equal sign. It is capable of connecting two different mathematical worlds. One is the realm of symplectic geometry, the branch of mathematics that underlies much of mechanics. On the other side is the realm of algebraic geometry, the world of complex numbers. Quantum physics allows ideas to flow freely from one field to the other and provides an unexpected “grand unification” of these two mathematical disciplines.

It is comforting to see how mathematics has been able to absorb so much of the intuitive, often imprecise reasoning of quantum physics and string theory, and to transform many of these ideas into rigorous statements and proofs. Mathematicians are close to applying this exactitude to homological mirror symmetry, a program that vastly extends string theory’s original idea of mirror symmetry. In a sense, they’re writing a full dictionary of the objects that appear in the two separate mathematical worlds, including all the relations they satisfy. Remarkably, these proofs often do not follow the path that physical arguments had suggested. It is apparently not the role of mathematicians to clean up after physicists! On the contrary, in many cases completely new lines of thought had to be developed in order to find the proofs. This is further evidence of the deep and as yet undiscovered logic that underlies quantum theory and, ultimately, reality.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

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

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week



Andrew Sullivan: “And once you see that moment—when [other Republicans] are too frightened of their followers to act—then you realize how terrifying this would be, were he to win. Because were he to win, almost certainly the House and the Senate would be with him. Almost certainly then he would be able to shape the Supreme Court. There would be no institutional resistance, except for the Republican party itself, which has shown itself to be incapable of resisting.

So that is where this is deeply dangerous. And let me point out— I just want to put this scenario out there because I think it hasn’t been put out there before: And we are at war! And the war could get worse. In fact, his very election, I think, would provoke a wave of jihadist terrorism. Now what would his response to that be? I think there’s no question that the Constitution as we’ve known it would be in tatters overnight. This is a man who has advocated—openly advocated—the torture of prisoners of war. He’s openly advocated the mass murder of civilians. He’s advocated the killing of the families of terrorists.”

Sam Harris: “But what’s confusing about this for his supporters is he’s also advocated an isolationism that makes Hillary look like the warmonger. He’s insisted that he was against the Iraq War, even though that’s at best ambiguous. He’s advocated a retreat from the world. Basically, he just wants to build a wall and hunker down, if you take him in at least most of his moods. And [for] many of the people who support him and who supported Sanders, frankly—this is music to their ears. [They think,] ‘We don’t need to be the world’s cop. We don’t need to be in the Middle East. Those people are barbarians who are never going to understand that democracy is a good thing. Let’s just make our country great again.’ Right? That’s the promise.”

Andrew Sullivan: “Except he’s not consistent on that because he wants to destroy ISIS, by which he means presumably a Putin-level bombing campaign.”

Sam Harris: “Or maybe a nuclear one. [Trump suggests,] ‘Why can’t we use our nukes? We’ve got ’em. Shouldn’t we be using them?'”

Andrew Sullivan: “What this does—and again, what you have to understand is we always project from our current situation and think things continue as they do—no. These kind of movements seize upon events. The events change our reality. The emotions that can be summoned up and manipulated in these processes—the mass emotions, especially when we have no elite control of the media anymore…—[are] incredibly dangerous.”

- The Lesser Evil: A Conversation with Andrew Sullivan (Waking Up - Sam Harris's Podcast)

Quote of the Day

It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.

-Arnold Joseph Toynbee

Friday, March 31, 2017

Sweet and Short Introduction to Complexity Science

There is a key deficit of network theory. It is that it relies on historical data to generate networks; we can see networks that have evolved and analyze them for 2008 financial crises and current products like telematics but what about networks that are yet to emerge?

Agent based modeling effectively addresses this shortcoming.  It is recognized that network theory uncovers a lot of important underlying structures that blind traditional actuarial theory. Moreover, key concepts like robustness, fragility, emergence, the topological geodesic structure into particular network models etc are likely to remain the same even though their manifestations will be different for emerging risks.

Hence, to organize behavior rules to set as base for agent based simulations, Common tools that complexity scientists use are extrapolating network trends from similar risks like extrapolating telematics network for drone insurance, game theory, genetic algorithms, heuristics and cognitive tendencies that we humans apply uncovered by behavioral finance, and neural networks.

Agent based modeling combined individual decision and network rules to model policyholder behavior, allowing us to simulate behavior at an individual level and then analyze the overall, aggregate outcomes. These models simulate the simultaneous operations and interactions of multiple individuals to recreate a system and predict complex phenomena. This process results in emergent behavior at the macro level based on micro-level system interactions.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

After his morning walk and breakfast, Darwin was in his study by 8 and worked a steady hour and a half. At 9:30 he would read the morning mail and write letters. At 10:30, Darwin returned to more serious work, sometimes moving to his aviary, greenhouse, or one of several other buildings where he conducted his experiments. By noon, he would declare, “I’ve done a good day’s work,” and set out on a long walk on the Sandwalk, a path he had laid out not long after buying Down House. (Part of the Sandwalk ran through land leased to Darwin by the Lubbock family.) When he returned after an hour or more, Darwin had lunch and answered more letters. At 3 he would retire for a nap; an hour later he would arise, take another walk around the Sandwalk, then return to his study until 5:30, when he would join his wife, Emma, and their family for dinner. On this schedule he wrote 19 books, including technical volumes on climbing plants, barnacles, and other subjects; the controversial Descent of Man; and The Origin of Species, probably the single most famous book in the history of science, and a book that still affects the way we think about nature and ourselves.

- Excerpts from the book Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Quote of the Day

The potential is great for people in the informal economy to exploit the blockchain’s middleman-free way to exchange assets and information and its irrefutable public record that’s free from the control of any one central institution.

- Paul Vigna, The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money Are Challenging the Global Economic Order

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Quote of the Day

Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.

- Thomas Carlyle

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Quote of the Day

Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy 1. The ability to quickly master hard things. 2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

- Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Monday, March 27, 2017

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

In the past 40 years a wide range of work both in the field and the lab has pushed the consensus away from strict behaviourism and towards that Darwin-friendly view. Progress has not been easy or quick; as the behaviourists warned, both sorts of evidence can be misleading. Laboratory tests can be rigorous, but are inevitably based on animals which may not behave as they do in the wild. Field observations can be dismissed as anecdotal. Running them for years or decades and on a large scale goes some way to guarding against that problem, but such studies are rare.

Nevertheless, most scientists now feel they can say with confidence that some animals process information and express emotions in ways that are accompanied by conscious mental experience. They agree that animals, from rats and mice to parrots and humpback whales, have complex mental capacities; that a few species have attributes once thought to be unique to people, such as the ability to give objects names and use tools; and that a handful of animals — primates, corvids (the crow family) and cetaceans (whales and dolphins) — have something close to what in humans is seen as culture, in that they develop distinctive ways of doing things which are passed down by imitation and example. No animals have all the attributes of human minds; but almost all the attributes of human minds are found in some animal or other.

[---]

Next, animals’ abilities are patchy compared with those of humans. Dogs can learn words but do not recognise their reflections. Clark’s nutcracker, a member of the crow family, buries up to 100,000 seeds in a season and remembers where it put them months later — but does not make tools, as other corvids do. These specific, focused abilities fit with some modern thinking about human minds, which sees them less as engines of pure reason that can be applied in much the same way to all aspects of life as bundles of subroutines for specific tasks. On this analysis a human mind might be a Swiss army knife, an animal mind a corkscrew or pair of tweezers.

This suggests a corollary — that there will be some dimensions in which animal minds exceed humans. Take the example of Ayumu, a young chimpanzee who lives at the Primate Research Institute of the University of Kyoto. Researchers have been teaching Ayumu a memory task in which a random pattern of numbers appears fleetingly on a touchscreen before being covered by electronic squares. Ayumu has to touch the on-screen squares in the same order as the numbers hidden beneath them. Humans get this test right most of the time if there are five numbers and 500 milliseconds or so in which to study them. With nine numbers, or less time, the human success rate declines sharply. Show Ayumu nine numbers flashed up for just 60 milliseconds and he will nonchalantly tap out the numbers in the right order with his knuckles.

There are humans with so called eidetic, or flash, memories who can do something similar — for chimps, though, this seems to be the norm. Is it an attribute that chimps have evolved since their last common ancestor with humans for some reason — or one that humans have lost over the same period of time? More deeply, how might it change what it is for a chimp to have a mind? How different is having minds in a society where everyone remembers such things? Animals might well think in ways that humans cannot yet decipher because they are too different from the ways humans think — adapted to sensory and mental realms utterly unlike that of the human, perhaps realms that have not spurred a need for language. There is, for example, no doubt that octopuses are intelligent; they are ferociously good problem solvers. But can scientists begin to imagine how an octopus might think and feel?


The inner lives of other species may be a lot richer than science once thought

Quote of the Day

Learning to pause is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving toward any goal. . . . The pause can occur in the midst of almost any activity and can last for an instant, for hours or for seasons of our life. . . . We may pause in the midst of meditation to let go of thoughts and reawaken our attention to the breath. We may pause by stepping out of daily life to go on a retreat or to spend time in nature or to take a sabbatical. . . . You might try it now: Stop reading and sit there, doing "no thing," and simply notice what you are experiencing.

-  Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

Friday, March 24, 2017

Quote of the Day

The secret of a happy life is to know when to stop, and then go that little bit further.

- Colin Dexter

Thursday, March 23, 2017

AI is the New Electricity - Andrew Resigns from Baidu

Just as electricity transformed many industries roughly 100 years ago, AI will also now change nearly every major industry — healthcare, transportation, entertainment, manufacturing — enriching the lives of countless people. I am more excited than ever about where AI can take us.

As the founding lead of the Google Brain project, and more recently through my role at Baidu, I have played a role in the transformation of two leading technology companies into “AI companies.” But AI’s potential is far bigger than its impact on technology companies.

I will continue my work to shepherd in this important societal change. In addition to transforming large companies to use AI, there are also rich opportunities for entrepreneurship as well as further AI research. I want all of us to have self-driving cars; conversational computers that we can talk to naturally; and healthcare robots that understand what ails us. The industrial revolution freed humanity from much repetitive physical drudgery; I now want AI to free humanity from repetitive mental drudgery, such as driving in traffic. This work cannot be done by any single company — it will be done by the global AI community of researchers and engineers. My Machine Learning MOOC on Coursera helped many people enter AI. In addition to working on AI myself, I will also explore new ways to support all of you in the global AI community, so that we can all work together to bring this AI-powered society to fruition.


- More Here