Friday, June 23, 2017

Quote of the Day

I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.

- Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.

- B. F. Skinner

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Quote of the Day

If a machine is expected to be infallible, it cannot also be intelligent.

- Alan Turing

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Quote of the Day

Those who struggle to change the world see themselves as noble, even tragic figures. Yet most of those who work for world betterment are not rebels against the scheme of things. They seek consolation for a truth they are too weak to bear. At bottom, their faith that the world can be transformed by human will is a denial of their own mortality.

- John N. Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

Monday, June 19, 2017

Omnigenic Model

More specifically, it means that all the genes that are switched on in a particular type of cell—say, a neuron or a heart muscle cell—are probably involved in almost every complex trait that involves those cells. So, for example, nearly every gene that’s switched on in neurons would play some role in defining a person’s intelligence, or risk of dementia, or propensity to learn. Some of these roles may be starring parts. Others might be mere cameos. But few genes would be left out of the production altogether.

This might explain why the search for genetic variants behind complex traits has been so arduous. For example, a giant study called… er… GIANT looked at the genomes of 250,000 people and identified 700 variants that affect our height. As predicted, each has a tiny effect, raising a person’s stature by just a millimeter. And collectively, they explain just 16 percent of the variation in heights that you see in people of European ancestry. That’s not very much, especially when scientists estimate that some 80 percent of all human height variation can be explained by genetic factors. Where’s that missing fraction?

Pritchard’s team re-analyzed the GIANT data and calculated that there are probably more than 100,000 variants that affect our height, and most of these shift it by just a seventh of a millimeter. They’re so minuscule in their effects that it’s hard to tell them apart from statistical noise, which is why geneticists typically ignore them. And yet, Pritchard’s team noted that many of these weak signals cropped up consistently across different studies, which suggests that they are real results. And since these variants are spread evenly across the entire genome, they implicate a “substantial fraction of all genes,” Pritchard says.

The team found more evidence for their omnigenic model by analyzing other large genetic studies of rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, and Crohn’s disease. Many of the variants identified by these studies seem relevant to the disease in question. For example, some of the schizophrenia variants affect genes involved in the nervous system. But mostly, the variants affect genes that don’t make for compelling stories, and that do pretty generic things. According to the omnigenic model, they’re only contributing to the risk of disease in incidental ways, by rippling across to the more relevant core genes. “It’s the only model I can come up with that make all the data fit,” Pritchard says.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.

- Ayn Rand

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Quote of the Day

The evil that is in the world almost always comes from ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.

- Albert Camus

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

The brand of speedy mathematics that dominates public perception and excludes so many is but one representation of the subject. For the majority of folks who do not excel in the rapid-fire format of mathematics, there is good news: maths is an endurance event.

Mathematicians have long known this. Says Timothy Gowers:
“The most profound contributions to mathematics are often made by tortoises rather than hares.”
Andrew Wiles contributed something quite profound when he ended the 358-year search for the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. Wiles points to scale and novelty as the two aspects of mathematics that elude competitions. Let’s hear it straight from the tortoise’s mouth:

“Let me stress that creating new mathematics is a quite different occupation from solving problems in a contest. Why is this? Because you don’t know for sure what you are trying to prove or indeed whether it is true.”
-  Maths is an endurance event

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

Quote of the Day

Sweet are the thoughts that savour of content, The quiet mind is richer than a crown...

-  Robert Greene

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.

- Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Quote of the Day

A critique does not consist in saying that things aren't good the way they are. It consists in seeing on just what type of assumptions, of familiar notions, of established and unexamined ways of thinking the accepted practices are based... To do criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy.

- Michel Foucault

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn't everyone's life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?

- Michel Foucault

Monday, June 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don't know is what what they do does.

- Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Quote of the Day

If you love somebody, set them free. If they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.

- Richard Bach

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Who is the Shouting Class?

Everyone has problems with something in society. And everyone sometimes complains about those problems, which Albert Hirschman called "voice". But for many people, voice is contingent - as soon as the problems are satisfactorily resolved they stop complaining and go back to living their daily lives. But a subset of people will never stop complaining. When a problem becomes less severe, they switch to a different problem. And they will always find some problem that they feel requires their vocal complaint. That subset - the people who will never stop complaining and giving negative feedback - are the Shouting Class. (Of course, this isn't really a binary distinction; there are shades of gray, as always.)

[---]

The cost of immunity to the Shouting Class

Ultimately, all of these problems - negativity, social censure, social discord, and empathy exhaustion - can be dealt with by developing an immunity to shouting. In other words, by becoming callous toward people's expression of approbation, dissatisfaction, anguish, irritation, etc. In fact, people on social media say this all the time: "Grow a thicker skin!"

But what are the costs of having a thick-skinned society? One potential cost is that elites and social institutions become unresponsive to legitimate calls for social change.

I saw this in action in college, with the protest community. At one point I joined some protests demanding higher wages for Stanford custodial workers. We marched, we yelled outside the president's office til he came out and talked to us. They raised the workers' wages.

But after that victory, I was astonished to see the protest leaders sit down and immediately start planning their next campaign. I asked them why they didn't intend to reward the establishment for giving ground on the wage issue. They just sort of gave me disparaging looks, except for one guy who told me "Frankly, I go to protests to hook up with hot anarchist chicks."

The Shouting Class is mostly not looking to hook up. But like those protesters, social media's Shouting Class has adopted criticism, anger, and disaffection as ways of life - not the means to an end, but the end in and of itself. Eventually, just as Stanford's administrators mostly stopped paying heed to the protest community, the powers that be will learn to accept and ignore a very high baseline level of popular disaffection. And that will raise the bar for movements whose needs are more urgent and realistic and capable of being satisfied - it'll be hard to tell real grievance from grievance-as-a-lifestyle.

(I sort of think suspect something like this happened with the Tea Party and Obama. The theory is that when Democrats saw that nothing could possibly appease the Republicans, they stopped paying attention to them at all, which I think drove GOP voters to amp up the extremism to levels previously unheard of, in the form of Trump.)

I worry that the costs of evolved callousness could go way beyond political protest movements, though. When people shout "We are in pain!" after seeing chalk slogans for a political candidate they don't like, it teaches lots of people to just ignore anyone who says they're in pain. Even if you're ripping them away from their children and shoving them into detention centers. Even if you're watching them get beaten up on the street. Even if you're hacking them up with a machete or machine-gunning them into a mass grave.

Not a pretty picture, is it?

The Shouting Class, with the bullhorn of social media, is forcing us all to grow thicker skins. But I don't want to live in a society of thick-skinned people.


- The Shouting Class

Quote of the Day



Friday, June 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt. It is no good to cry out after you are hurt; especially after you are mortally hurt. People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. it is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists.

- G.K. Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Quote of the Day

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, — is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.

- John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Quote of the Day

He wondered about the people in houses like those. They would be, for example, small clerks, shop-assistants, commercial travellers, insurance touts, tram conductors. Did they know that they were only puppets dancing when money pulled the strings? You bet they didn’t. And if they did, what would they care? They were too busy being born, being married, begetting, working, dying. It mightn’t be a bad thing, if you could manage it, to feel yourself one of them, one of the ruck of men. Our civilization is founded on greed and fear, but in the lives of common men the greed and fear are mysteriously transmuted into something nobler. The lower-middle-class people in there, behind their lace curtains, with their children and their scraps of furniture and their aspidistras — they lived by the money-code, sure enough, and yet they contrived to keep their decency. The money-code as they interpreted it was not merely cynical and hoggish. They had their standards, their inviolable points of honour. They ‘kept themselves respectable’— kept the aspidistra flying. Besides, they were alive. They were bound up in the bundle of life. They begot children, which is what the saints and the soul-savers never by any chance do.

The aspidistra is the tree of life, he thought suddenly.


- George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Ultimate Guide to Intermittent Fasting

Here are 15 amazing benefits of intermittent fasting.

One: weight loss
Instead of running on fuel from the food you just ate, fasting allows your body to tap into reserves – fat, which accumulates on the body to be burned whenever food supply grows scarce. This results in a slow, steady weight loss that can be a huge benefit.

Since fasting is often incorporated as a lifestyle change instead of a temporary fix, this type of diet is much more sustainable than many other “crash diets.” In fact, many studies support the practice as a valuable, reliable tool for weight loss and weight maintenance. Initially, you’ll see a marked weight loss as a result of losing water weight, but according to the author of Eat Stop Eat, each day you fast will show a loss of 0.5 pounds of true body fat.

Two: improved tolerance of glucose
For diabetics, fasting can be a fantastic way to normalize glucose and even improve glucose variability. Anyone looking for a natural way to increase insulin sensitivity should attempt an intermittent fast, as the effects of fasting can make a huge difference in how your body processes glucose.

Generally, insulin resistance is the result of accumulation of glucose in tissues that aren’t built for fat storage. As the body burns through stored fuel in the form of body fat, that excess accumulation becomes smaller and smaller, allowing the cells in your muscles and liver to grow increasingly responsive to insulin – great news for anyone looking to be less dependent on medications to assist these processes.

- More Here @ Jen Reviews

Quote of the Day

The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.

- T.S. Eliot

Monday, June 5, 2017

How America Turned Against Smart Kids

Ideological Resistance to Gifted and Talented Education

The intriguing literature on intellectually gifted children has not produced a corresponding interest in American society on how to cultivate their talent. In many ways, the opposite has occurred.

As eugenics fell out of fashion in the 1940s, the aspiration to help gifted children was increasingly likened to a concept that, in the name of improving the genetic fitness of the population, legitimated elitist and racist excesses against underprivileged groups. Whatever interest U.S.-Soviet rivalry rekindled in gifted and talented education was again quashed with the civil rights movement and its aftermath. The dream of racial and gender equality underscored to the political and educational establishment that opportunities for gifted students were distractions from the more pressing imperative of elevating lower performing children. As Peg Tyre of the Edwin Gould Foundation reports, programs for the intellectually-talented today are generally “spurned by equity-minded school administrators and policymakers who see them as means by which predominantly affluent white and Asian parents have funneled scarce public dollars toward additional enrichment for their already enriched children.”

The Rise of Gifted Homeschooling

Against this backdrop, parents began to seek enrichment for their gifted children outside mainstream institutions. In 1978 a district court issued an arrest warrant for Dr. Peter Perchemlides, a Massachusetts-based biochemistry Ph.D. from Duke University, along with his college-educated wife, for refusing to comply with Massachusetts’ compulsory schooling law. The national attention and the couples’ ensuing superior court victory drew attention to the fact that the profile of homeschooling families was changing. The Perchemlides were part of a new wave of homeschoolers—well-educated middle and upper class parents of diverse political persuasions who were removing their children from formal schools for educational rather than religious reasons.

Precise data is not available but reports since the 1980s indicate that the trend has continued. Last month, the National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT) observed that homeschooling was becoming more popular among gifted children, an impression consistent with the latest data on American homeschoolers. In 2010 about 30 percent of homeschooled students have fathers with at least a master’s degree and almost 9 percent are in families with a household income of over $150,000.


- More Here



Quote of the Day

Kruglyak wanted to know why this bird couldn’t take to the skies. Specifically, as a geneticist, he wanted to know what genetic changes had grounded it. When he got back to his lab, he reached out to a research team that had collected blood samples from 223 flightless cormorants—almost a quarter of the total endangered population. He and his own team used these samples to sequence the cormorant’s genome, then compared its DNA to that of three other cormorant species, looking for mutations that are unique to the flightless one, and that are likely to alter its genes in important ways.

They found a long list of affected genes. Many of these, when mutated in humans, distort the growth of limbs, resulting in extra fingers, missing digits, and other similar conditions. Some of them are also responsible for a group of rare inherited disorders called ciliopathies, where cilia—small hair-like structures on the surface of cells—don’t develop correctly. Cells use cilia to exchange signals and coordinate their growth. If these hairs don’t form correctly, many body parts don’t develop in the usual way. In particular, some people with ciliopathies grow up with short limbs and small ribcages—a striking parallel with the stunted wings and small breastbone of the flightless cormorant.


Scientists have discovered some of the genetic changes behind the useless wings of the Galapagos cormorant

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Education of Sebastian Thrun

Picture this: You’re the founder of a secretive research and development lab at one of the hottest companies in the world, likely paid a handsome salary for the privilege, and your name is in the media two to three times a week. Your role is to come up with life-changing ideas, and your biggest one to date is a car that drives itself. You’ve been called one of the world’s most creative people and you’re probably one of the cleverest too, having been a Stanford professor.

And then, at the top of your career, you give it all up.

[---]

Thrun came to the realization that making education available to everyone – not just the elite few – could help people from all over the world.

“It was kind of, like, a calling to me. I hadn't anticipated that I'd become an online instructor or CEO of a company, a founder of a company that, that wants to democratize education. But when I realized that with this one class I had more teaching impact in this specific quarter than, like, the entire academic field combined in the entire world, I realized, ‘Oh my God. Something has to be done’,” he said.

And so, in 2012, Thrun left Google X, and Udacity was born.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

Neither the humans nor the dogs showed much response in cortisol levels to the sound of a baby babbling. The radio static also did not alter cortisol levels, though the humans described it as “unpleasant” and the dogs’ body language, which included lowered heads, flattened ears and lowered tails, suggested that it might have caused some distress.

But the sound of a baby crying produced a drastic response. Cortisol levels spiked in both people and dogs. The dogs responded with submissive behaviors like tucking their tails, a reaction that Ted Ruffman, a study author and professor of psychology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, described as low-level empathy.

“Emotional contagion is a primitive form of empathy,” Dr. Ruffman said. “It is plausible that when breeding dogs, humans would have selected for qualities that facilitated emotional links between dogs and humans.”


The Empathetic Dog

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Suzanna Arundhati Roy, born in 1959 in Shillong, a small town in India’s northeast, grew up strong-minded, and had to. Her mother was a Syrian Christian from Kerala; her father was the manager of a tea plantation, and a Hindu and a drunk. Because of their differing backgrounds, their marriage was frowned on; its ending was even less approved of. When Roy was two, her mother, Mary, took her two children and returned to her family. But, in India, daughters who insist on choosing their own husbands are not necessarily welcomed home when the union doesn’t prosper. Mary Roy and her children lived on their relatives’ sufferance. Roy told Siddhartha Deb that her mother would send her and her brother into town with a basket, and the shopkeepers would put in it whatever they could spare on credit: “Mostly just rice and green chilies.” The mother was chronically ill, with asthma. Later, she started a school and was busy there. Her children were on their own, and, still bearing the stigma of their parents’ divorce, often found their companions among lower-caste neighbors.

When Roy was sixteen, she left home for good, soon landing in an architectural college in Delhi. Much of the time, she lived in slums, because that was all she could afford. After graduating from college, she hung out with her boyfriend for a while in Goa, where they would make cake and sell it on the beach. Among the poor, Roy told Deb, she learned to see the world from the point of view of absolute vulnerability: “And that hasn’t left me.”

Indeed, that is what occupied her during the years when, to her fans’ disappointment, she was not writing novels. Journalists are always telling us about the interesting play of contrasts in the “new India”: billionaires walking the same sidewalks as beggars, Bentleys driving down roads alongside oxcarts. Side by side, business and charm, the modern world and the old world. But, as Roy has argued in the eight books she has brought out since “The God of Small Things,” the two aren’t separate. The new India was built on the backs of the poor. One of her first targets, in a widely circulated 1998 essay, “The End of Imagination,” was the nuclear tests India carried out that year. To many Indians, these were occasions of pride: their country was a player at last. To Roy, the nuclear program was a sign that the government cared more about displays of power than about the appalling conditions in which most of its billion citizens lived.

[---]

These books—most of them were collections of previously published essays—were really all about one subject: modern India’s abuse of its poor. The country’s new middle class, Roy writes, lives “side by side with spirits of the netherworld, the poltergeists . . . of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than twenty Indian rupees a day.” Twenty rupees is thirty cents.
Roy is a good polemicist. She writes simple, strong expository prose. When she needs to, she uses words like “stupid” and “pathetic”—indeed, “mass murder.” She checks her facts; most of her books conclude with a fat section of endnotes, documenting her claims. Many people on the right hate her, of course, and not just for her skill in argumentation. There is a Jane Fonda-in-Vietnam element here: although Roy, unlike Fonda, grew up poor, to many she looks like a fortunate person. She may have sold cake on the beach when she was young, but that sounds a little bit like fun.

This problem often comes up when the rich plead on behalf of the poor. The less rich say, Well, why don’t you give your money away? That, of course, is not a solution. And, in fact, Roy has given a lot of money away—for example, all her prize money. She certainly has no financial difficulties. “The God of Small Things” has sold more than six million copies. But should only the poor be allowed to argue for the poor? If so, the poor would be in much worse trouble than they already are.


- Arundhati Roy Returns to Fiction, in Fury

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

Friday, June 2, 2017

Quote of the Day

The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.

- T.H. White, The Once and Future King

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Quote of the Day

We cut the throat of a calf and hang it up by the heels to bleed to death so that our veal cutlet may be white; we nail geese to a board and cram them with food because we like the taste of liver disease; we tear birds to pieces to decorate our women's hats; we mutilate domestic animals for no reason at all except to follow an instinctively cruel fashion; and we connive at the most abominable tortures in the hope of discovering some magical cure for our own diseases by them.

- George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Is Your Personality Fixed, Or Can You Change Who You Are?

Lee Ross, a psychologist at Stanford University, has another intriguing idea. He had read Mischel's book on personality when it came out in the 1960s and immediately understood the profound puzzle it presented. He thinks we actually are seeing consistency in human behavior, but we're getting the reason for it wrong. "We see consistency in everyday life because of the power of the situation," he says.

Most of us are usually living in situations that are pretty much the same from day to day, Ross says. And since the circumstances are consistent, our behavior is, too.

[---]

We realize the outside world can change in a heartbeat, "but when it comes to human beings, we really don't have tolerance for realizing that there is an enormous amount of instability."

Still, we're not slaves to that instability. Traits and life situations both affect our behavior, Mischel says. But so do our minds.

The beliefs, assumptions, expectations that you've gotten from your friends, family, culture — those things, Mischel explains, are the filter through which you see the world. Your mind stands between who you are, your personality and whatever situation you are in. It interprets the world around it, and how it feels about what it sees. And so when the stuff inside the mind changes, the person changes.

"People can use their wonderful brains to think differently about situations," Milgram says. "To reframe them. To reconstruct them. To even reconstruct themselves."


- More Here

Quote of the Day

Join those words to Trump’s ostentatious refusal to endorse NATO’s famous Article 5, the guarantee of mutual defense, at the NATO summit, and it’s hard to imagine that the messaging of Trump’s first trip could have been more perfect for Vladimir Putin if he’d written the script himself.

- David Frum

Monday, May 29, 2017

Apple's New Campus

“It’s frustrating to talk about this building in terms of absurd, large numbers,” Ive says. “It makes for an impressive statistic, but you don’t live in an impressive statistic. While it is a technical marvel to make glass at this scale, that’s not the achievement. The achievement is to make a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk.” The value, he argues, is not what went into the building. It’s what will come out.

[---]

Jobs hated air-conditioning and especially loathed fans. (He vigilantly tried to keep them out of his computers.) But he also didn’t want people opening windows, so he insisted on natural ventilation, a building that breathes just like the people who work inside it. “The flaps and the opening mechanism,” Behling explains, “all have to relate to sensors that measure where the wind is coming from and how the air goes through it.” Unlike sealed buildings in which the temperature is rigidly controlled, the Ring circulates outside air. The concrete in the floor and ceiling is embedded with tubes of water and is supposed to lock in a temperature between 68 and 77 degrees, so that the heating or cooling system will kick in only on very hot or cold days. (In theory some workers can use thermostats to adjust the temperature in a given pod, but only by a couple of degrees.)

When I later discuss the office climate with Apple’s environment czar, Lisa Jackson, she professes understanding—to a point. “It’s not like we’re asking people to be uncomfortable at work,” she says. “We’re asking them to recognize that part of being connected to the outside is knowing what temperature it is. We don’t want you to feel like you’re in a casino. We want you to know what time of day it is, what temperature it is outside. Is the wind really blowing? That was Steve’s original intention, to sort of blur that line between the inside and outside. It sort of wakes up your senses.”


- Steven Levy

Quote of the Day

There is a reason that we don’t talk about “Christian physics” or “Muslim algebra,” though the Christians invented physics as we know it, and the Muslims invented algebra. Today, anyone who emphasizes the Christian roots of physics or the Muslim roots of algebra would stand convicted of not understanding these disciplines at all. In the same way, once we develop a scientific account of the contemplative path, it will utterly transcend its religious associations. Once such a conceptual revolution has taken place, speaking of “Buddhist” meditation will be synonymous with a failure to assimilate the changes that have occurred in our understanding of the human mind.

- Killing the Buddha, Sam Harris

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Quote of the Day

An educated man should know something about everything, and everything about something.

- Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

I approached this place on a bright morning, at around 6 am, on the back of a motorcycle driven by Purshottam Vaghela, a Dalit activist employed by Janvikas, an NGO that works with manual scavengers. One man stood in its centre, sprinkling a white powder on the ground, while two others shovelled trash from the container into the back of a tractor. As I walked towards the man in the middle, I felt myself step on something mushy, and realised that it had stuck to my shoe. I looked, and saw that it was a paste of the white powder and fresh excrement.

The man was Kaushik Kalubhai Solanki. He looked to be somewhere in his thirties, and said he was a Dalit, working full-time with the Ahmedabad municipal corporation. This place, he explained, served as an open toilet, and he came here every morning to clean it. According to the 2011 census, some 28,000 of the 1.2 million households under the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation had no sanitary facilities, and their members defecated in the open. Of the households that did have sanitary facilities, 188 had dry latrines cleaned by hand, and just under 6,000 had single-pit latrines, which are often emptied manually. About 73,500 had latrines linked to septic tanks, which are also typically drained by manual scavengers.

Solanki carried a long-handled instrument that resembled a wooden mop, but the crosspiece, instead of a rag, sported rows of iron spikes along its bottom. Solanki used it to scrape faeces off the ground prior to sprinkling the area with the powder—bleaching powder, as it turned out, which is a disinfectant. Once he scraped together a pile, the men with the shovels threw it into the tractor along with the trash, to be dumped in a landfill.

Solanki had no water to use for his job, and there was not a single tap in sight. He lifted one of his slippered feet, sole to the top. It was caked thickly in the same mixture I had stepped in.

It was not easy to catch Solanki at work. What he does, and what other sanitation workers in Ahmedabad do, is rarely witnessed by the majority of the city’s residents, including the people they clean up after. Those who defecate in the open tend to do so before daybreak, when darkness affords them some privacy. Most sanitation workers, in Ahmedabad as in other cities, begin their shifts very early, and by the time the whole city begins its day their work is done. This makes their labour largely invisible—though if they ever stopped, the results would be all too noticeable.

I spent three days in Ahmedabad, visiting scores of neighbourhoods and meeting several activists and social workers. For the first two days, I set off into the city in mid morning, by which point sanitation workers had already cleaned the spaces where open defecation occurs. I spent several hours driving around neighbourhoods near the city centre with Saumil Fidelis, a young Janvikas activist. He was pleasantly surprised that we did not see signs of open defecation, and told me the situation in these places had improved. “It seems there has been some action on our complaints,” he said.

On the third day, on which I met Solanki, I woke up two hours before dawn to join Vaghela on a motorbike tour of places such as Odno Tekro, Sarkivad, Nagorivad and Juna Vadaj—slums largely occupied by Dalits and Muslims. The sanitary conditions in all the areas we visited were very poor, though slightly better than in Millat Nagar. Some areas had public latrines with sewer connections, but even in these, the cleaners, all employed by contractors running these latrines for the municipal corporation, had only brooms and crude tools to work with, and no safety equipment at all.

[---]

When I sat down to speak with Rathod, I learnt that nothing that I had observed was exceptional. Rathod regularly leaves his home before dawn, with a camera in hand, to document open defecation, uncovered excreta and the labour of sanitation workers. On the screen of his small digital camera, he pulled up some of his photographs and videos. An entire collection of images showed children defecating in the open. One series of videos, shot in public latrines in various parts of the city last year, showed floors almost completely covered in faeces, and sanitation workers cleaning them with brooms and other crude tools, sometimes with the help of a few buckets of water. The scenes were far worse than anything I had seen in the city’s public latrines myself, and, even watching on the tiny screen, I felt a violent revulsion. On several occasions, unable to watch any more, I asked Rathod to stop the footage.

Rathod said he and his colleagues regularly sent such videos and photographs to municipal officials. They made it a point to send a large batch of them out to officials in September last year, just as Gujarat was preparing to declare the end of open defecation in all urban areas. That did not stop the government from going ahead with the declaration.

As of mid April, on the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin website, a ranking of districts “based on IHHL+ODF coverage”—that is, on the availability of individual household latrines and the absence of open defecation—showed Ahmedabad district as the best in the country, with “100.00%” coverage. The top 14 spots in the ranking were all occupied by districts in Gujarat.

[---]

Nobody has a reliable count of how many manual scavengers have died on the job in India. The National Crime Records Bureau counts deaths due to “fall in pit/manhole”— in 2014, for instance, the record shows 780 fatal falls into pits, and 195 into manholes—but has no indication as to how many of these involved manual scavengers. The Safai Karmachari Andolan has identified 487 deaths of manual scavengers on the job since 1993, but this only includes cases with corroborating documentation, from only 16 states. Sana Sultana, the SKA’s media coordinator, told me the organisation does not have the resources to monitor the numbers across the rest of the country. By the SKA’s count, so far only 57 families of deceased manual scavengers have been paid the compensation due to them under the Supreme Court judgment.

What is clear is that manual scavengers continue to work in sewers in dangerous conditions, and to die doing so. This March, in Bengaluru, three manual scavengers died of asphyxiation while trying to clear a congested sewer without any safety equipment. (The gear for such work should include breathing apparatus, protective clothing, proper lighting, and detectors of poisonous gases such as methane, as well as mechanised cleaning equipment such as suction pipes.) All three were employed by a firm contracted by the local water board, and owned by the Ramky Group, a Hyderabad-based company with interests in real estate and waste management. (The company has been contracted to build numerous waste-processing plants under the Swachh Bharat Mission.) The Karnataka government announced that it would pay compensation to the families of the dead workers, and registered an FIR against the contractor.


Down The Drain: How the Swachh Bharat Mission is heading for failure

Quote of the Day

It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.

- Dave Barry

Friday, May 26, 2017

Quote of the Day

What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future. Our singular foresight created civilization and sustains society. It usually lifts our spirits, but it’s also the source of most depression and anxiety, whether we’re evaluating our own lives or worrying about the nation. Other animals have springtime rituals for educating the young, but only we subject them to “commencement” speeches grandly informing them that today is the first day of the rest of their lives.

- We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Quote of the Day

The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.

- Albert Camus

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Quote of the Day

There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.

- Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Quote of the Day

I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.

- Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon

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