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

Quote of the Day

Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them.

- Bertrand Russell, New Hopes for a Changing World

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

Dogs are often happier than men simply because the simplest things are the greatest things for them!

- Mehmet Murat Ildan

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Problem With Facts

All this adds up to a depressing picture for those of us who aren’t ready to live in a post-truth world. Facts, it seems, are toothless. Trying to refute a bold, memorable lie with a fiddly set of facts can often serve to reinforce the myth. Important truths are often stale and dull, and it is easy to manufacture new, more engaging claims. And giving people more facts can backfire, as those facts provoke a defensive reaction in someone who badly wants to stick to their existing world view. “This is dark stuff,” says Reifler. “We’re in a pretty scary and dark time.”

Is there an answer? Perhaps there is.

We know that scientific literacy can actually widen the gap between different political tribes on issues such as climate change — that is, well-informed liberals and well-informed conservatives are further apart in their views than liberals and conservatives who know little about the science. But a new research paper from Dan Kahan, Asheley Landrum, Katie Carpenter, Laura Helft and Kathleen Hall Jamieson explores the role not of scientific literacy but of scientific curiosity.

The researchers measured scientific curiosity by asking their experimental subjects a variety of questions about their hobbies and interests. The subjects were offered a choice of websites to read for a comprehension test. Some went for ESPN, some for Yahoo Finance, but those who chose Science were demonstrating scientific curiosity. Scientifically curious people were also happier to watch science documentaries than celebrity gossip TV shows. As one might expect, there’s a correlation between scientific knowledge and scientific curiosity, but the two measures are distinct.

What Kahan and his colleagues found, to their surprise, was that while politically motivated reasoning trumps scientific knowledge, “politically motivated reasoning . . . appears to be negated by science curiosity”. Scientifically literate people, remember, were more likely to be polarised in their answers to politically charged scientific questions. But scientifically curious people were not. Curiosity brought people together in a way that mere facts did not. The researchers muse that curious people have an extra reason to seek out the facts: “To experience the pleasure of contemplating surprising insights into how the world works.”

So how can we encourage curiosity? It’s hard to make banking reform or the reversibility of Article 50 more engaging than football, Game of Thrones or baking cakes. But it does seem to be what’s called for. “We need to bring people into the story, into the human narratives of science, to show people how science works,” says Christensen.

We journalists and policy wonks can’t force anyone to pay attention to the facts. We have to find a way to make people want to seek them out. Curiosity is the seed from which sensible democratic decisions can grow. It seems to be one of the only cures for politically motivated reasoning but it’s also, into the bargain, the cure for a society where most people just don’t pay attention to the news because they find it boring or confusing.

What we need is a Carl Sagan or David Attenborough of social science — somebody who can create a sense of wonder and fascination not just at the structure of the solar system or struggles of life in a tropical rainforest, but at the workings of our own civilisation: health, migration, finance, education and diplomacy.

One candidate would have been Swedish doctor and statistician Hans Rosling, who died in February. He reached an astonishingly wide audience with what were, at their heart, simply presentations of official data from the likes of the World Bank.

He characterised his task as telling people the facts — “to describe the world”. But the facts need a champion. Facts rarely stand up for themselves — they need someone to make us care about them, to make us curious. That’s what Rosling did. And faced with the apocalyptic possibility of a world where the facts don’t matter, that is the example we must follow.

- Tim Harford

Quote of the Day

The usual duty of the “intellectual” is to argue for complexity and to insist that phenomena in the world of ideas should not be sloganized or reduced to easily repeated formulae.

- Christopher Hitchens

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Monsanto isn’t evil. It’s run by a boring old bald guy named Hugh Grant, for Christ’s sake. Hugh Grant is not trying to starve or enslave the world. But, intentionally or not, he and the rest of biotech are making it easier for us to give up our food sovereignty in a broader environment where doing so seems to be the easiest option.

We’re all so “busy.” We have to feed 9 billion people. We’re running out of land and water. The climate is changing. The world demands cheap meat. We want quick solutions to these problems, within our lifetimes, with minimal impact on our lifestyles. We suck. We want technology to save us from ourselves. Maybe it’s this country’s founding Christian ethos: someone paid for our sins before; won’t someone do it again? Sorry, Hugh Grant ain’t Jesus.

Here’s more news: engineered food isn’t going anywhere. Not only because it’s profitable, but because it’s promising. Cultured meat really could be part of the solution to feeding valuable protein to the developing world while reducing herd sizes in the interest of the environment.

Hydroponics/aquaponics could be a clutch player in urban agriculture, shortening supply chains and helping make Local a pervasive concept. GMOs do have some environmental benefits that warrant exploring even by dyed-in-the-wool permaculturalists.

The answer here is not fighting engineering and innovation under the misguided notion that these things can (or should) be stopped. The answer is in refusing to surrender time-honored growing methods to the relentless march of technology — and that’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds. It’s not picketing, protesting, and writing witty essays about the evils of biotech to the adulation of the echo chamber. The answer is being for, not against, something. And it’s in the decisions each of us has control over.

It’s the decision to plant gardens; open farms and homesteads; save, share and sell seeds; raise and breed a little livestock; learn to can, salt, smoke, and butcher. It’s in the decision to travel less and plant more. To patronize your nearby farmers even if it’s inconvenient, and find ways to make it less inconvenient. To say no to cheap and processed food whenever, wherever, and if ever your budget allows. To reorient your social capital around how many plants you’ve grown, how much soil you’ve built, how many seeds you’ve saved, and how many people you’ve fed — instead of where you’ve traveled, what your job title is, who you’ve met, and how jelly everyone is of your IG feed.

Recognize the miracle that nature is, and exercise your birthright to participate in that miracle. Breathe life into it by putting your hands in the ground as often as you can. Leave Monsanto alone and lead by example. It’s just that easy, and it’s just that hard.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Friday, March 17, 2017

Quote of the Day

Intelligence seems not to originate from some outlandish formula, but rather from the patient, almost brute force use of simple, straightforward algorithms.

- Ethem Alpaydin, Machine Learning: The New AI

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Quote of the Day

No book that will not improve by repeated readings deserves to be read at all.

- Thomas Carlyle

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

Google’s 20 self-driving car crashers over 20 million miles record doesn’t translate into a prediction for the safety of self-driving trucks. A fast, hard turn of the steering wheel at high speed would set a truck to fishtailing and possibly jackknifing. From the moment the brakes are applied in a truck going 55 miles per hour, it takes well over the length of a football field for the vehicle to stop. Many avoidance algorithms for self-driving cars just don’t apply to trucks.

- David H. Freeman

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Don’t Blame That Idiot's Brain

For example, you might believe that the President is a rash person who tends to speak and act on impulse. That’s your description of his personality, but suppose you want to give a more scientific statement. So you note that in neuroscience, damage to the prefrontal cortex can produce impulsivity. Aha! So maybe Trump’s prefrontal cortex is underactive! Or maybe he has a personality disorder! Yet these aren’t explanations, let alone a scientific ones, for Trump’s rashness. They’re just more sciencey and impressive ways of saying he’s rash.

We don’t need these kinds of quasi-scientific analyses of Trump’s (or anyone’s) character. We should stick to describing and commenting on the behaviour that we can directly observe. If Trump is rash, then that’s it: he’s rash. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in his brain to make him that way. If he’s egotistic and selfish, then just say so – it adds nothing to the discussion to speculate about whether he meets criteria for ‘narcissistic personality disorder’, not to mention that such a diagnosis-at-a-distance is ethically questionable.

More broadly, as I’ve argued previously, neuroscience can answer questions about the brain but most political and social questions are about behaviour. Now, while all behaviour is the product of brain activity, it’s rarely useful to try to understand a behaviour in neuroscientific terms. If you’re thirsty, then you could make me understand your situation by saying “I’m thirsty”, and the solution would be a glass of water. A neuroscientific analysis of activity in your brain’s subfornical organ wouldn’t help anyone.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

It is impossible for anyone to write a perfectly rationally argued document without a segment that, out of context, can be transformed by some dishonest copywriter to appear totally absurd and lend itself to sensationalization, so politicians, charlatans and, more disturbingly, journalists hunt for these segments.

The Facts are True, the News is Fake, Nassim Taleb

Monday, March 13, 2017

Microbial Balance, the Brain and Athletic Performance

The gut microbiome and its influence on host behavior, intestinal barrier and immune function are believed to be a critical aspect of the brain-gut axis.1 This has important implications for athletes, as fatigue, mood disturbances, under performance and gastrointestinal distress associated with over training are common among athletes during training and competition. This is not to dismiss that exercise that does not result in overtraining also induces a level of “stress" to homeostatic mechanisms that ultimately result in training adaptations. Associated with these can be a stress-related release of catabolic hormones, inflammatory cytokines and microbial molecules all of which can influence microbial balance.

It has been suggested that gut microbiota might have a key role in controlling the oxidative stress and inflammatory responses as well as improving metabolism and energy expenditure during intense exercise.4 The exact connection between exercise-induced stress, the associated adaptations, over training, the gut microbiota and performance have not been clearly identified. What is clear is that it may be possible to design diet and supplemental strategies to optimize microbial balance and optimize performance through the gut-brain axis.1,2 For example, change in diet can significantly influence the composition of the gut microbiota composition in just 24 hours.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

My biggest problem with modernity may lie in the growing separation of the ethical and the legal.

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Bed of Procrustes by Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Animated

Quote of the Day

But what is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint. Those who know what virtuous liberty is, cannot bear to see it disgraced by incapable heads, on account of their having high-sounding words in their mouths.

- Edmund Burke

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

The things that we thought we understood about Europeans are coming unstuck as we examine the genes of more ancient people. For example, it was generally accepted that pale skin evolved so we could get more vitamin D after moving north to where there was little sun and people had to cover up against the cold. But it turns out that it was the Yamnaya people from much further south, tall and brown-eyed, who brought pale skins to Europe. Northern Europeans before then were dark-skinned and got plenty of vitamin D from eating fish.

It is the same with lactose tolerance. Around 90 per cent of Europeans have a genetic mutation that allows them to digest milk into adulthood, and scientists had assumed that this gene evolved in farmers in northern Europe, giving them an additional food supply to help survive the long winters. But Eske’s research using the genomes of hundreds of Bronze Age people, who lived after the advent of farming, has cast doubt on this theory too: “We found that the genetic trait was almost non-existent in the European population. This trait only became abundant in the northern European population within the last 2,000 years,” he says.

It turns out that lactose tolerance genes were also introduced by the Yamnaya. “They had a slightly higher tolerance to milk than the European farmers and must have introduced it to the European gene pool. Maybe there was a disaster around 2,000 years ago that caused a population bottleneck and allowed the gene to take off. The Viking sagas talk about the sun becoming black – a major volcanic eruption – that could have caused a massive drop in population size, which could have been where some of that stock takes off with lactose.”

While ancient genomics can help satisfy curiosity about our origins, its real value may be in trying to unpick some of the different health risks in different populations. Even when lifestyle and social factors are taken into account, some groups are at significantly higher risk of diseases such as diabetes or HIV, while other groups seem more resistant. Understanding why could help us prevent and treat these diseases more effectively.

It had been thought that resistance to infections like measles, influenza and so on arrived once we changed our culture and started farming, living in close proximity with other people and with animals. Farming started earlier in Europe, which was thought to be why we have disease resistance but Native Americans don’t, and also why the genetic risks of diabetes and obesity are higher in native Australian and Chinese people than in Europeans.

“Then,” says Eske, “we sequenced a hunter-gatherer from Spain, and he showed clear genetic resistance to a number of pathogens that he shouldn’t have been exposed to.” Clearly, Europeans and other groups have a resistance that other groups don’t have, but is this really a result of the early agricultural revolution in Europe, or is something else going on?

Eske’s analysis of people living 5,000 years ago has also revealed massive epidemics of plague in Europe and Central Asia, 3,000 years earlier than previously thought. Around 10 per cent of all skeletons the team analysed had evidence of plague. “Scandinavians and some northern Europeans have higher resistance to HIV than anywhere else in the world,” Eske notes. “Our theory is that their HIV resistance is partly resistance towards plague.”

It could be that the cultural changes we have made, such as farming and herding, have had less influence on our genes than we thought. Perhaps it is simply the randomness of genetic mutation that has instead changed our culture. There’s no doubt that where mutations have occurred and spread through our population, they have influenced the way we look, our health risks and what we can eat. My ancestors clearly didn’t stop evolving once they’d left Africa – we’re still evolving now – and they have left an intriguing trail in our genes.

What Does It Mean To Be Human?

Quote of the Day

Friday, March 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

You gotta challenge all assumptions. If you don’t, what is doctrine on day one becomes dogma forever after.

- John Boyd

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Quote of the Day

Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

- J.K. Rowling

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Quote of the Day

The most important thing in life is to be free to do things. There are only two ways to insure that freedom — you can be rich or you can you reduce your needs to zero.

- John Boyd

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Quote of the Day

Don’t think about why you question, simply don’t stop questioning. Don’t worry about what you can’t answer, and don’t try to explain what you can’t know. Curiosity is its own reason. Aren’t you in awe when you contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure behind reality? And this is the miracle of the human mind — to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas as tools to explain what man sees, feels and touches. Try to comprehend a little more each day. Have holy curiosity.

- Albert Einstein

Monday, March 6, 2017

Facebook releases 'Prophet' -- its free forecasting tools -- for Python and R

Facebook has open-sourced its Prophet forecasting tool, designed "to make it easier for experts and non-experts to make high-quality forecasts," according to a blog post by Sean J. Taylor and Ben Letham in the company's research team. "Forecasts are customizable in ways that are intuitive to non-experts," they wrote.

The code is available on GitHub in both Python and R.

Prophet is aimed specifically at business problems such as computer infrastructure capacity planning that have at least several months of data (preferably a year or more) and issues such as seasonality, "holidays" that can affect trends (such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday for retailers), and events that can have significant impacts (such as launching a new website when trying to forecast site traffic). Prophet can also handle some missing values and outliers, the blog post said.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.

- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.

- The Little Minister, J. M. Barrie

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

The first best piece of the year; Kathryn Schulz heart breaking but yet full of wisdom in When Things Go Missing:

It is breathtaking, the extinguishing of consciousness. Yet that loss, too—our own ultimate unbeing—is dwarfed by the grander scheme. When we are experiencing it, loss often feels like an anomaly, a disruption in the usual order of things. In fact, though, it is the usual order of things. Entropy, mortality, extinction: the entire plan of the universe consists of losing, and life amounts to a reverse savings account in which we are eventually robbed of everything. Our dreams and plans and jobs and knees and backs and memories, the childhood friend, the husband of fifty years, the father of forever, the keys to the house, the keys to the car, the keys to the kingdom, the kingdom itself: sooner or later, all of it drifts into the Valley of Lost Things.

There’s precious little solace for this, and zero redress; we will lose everything we love in the end. But why should that matter so much? By definition, we do not live in the end: we live all along the way. The smitten lovers who marvel every day at the miracle of having met each other are right; it is finding that is astonishing. You meet a stranger passing through your town and know within days you will marry her. You lose your job at fifty-five and shock yourself by finding a new calling ten years later. You have a thought and find the words. You face a crisis and find your courage.

All of this is made more precious, not less, by its impermanence. No matter what goes missing, the wallet or the father, the lessons are the same. Disappearance reminds us to notice, transience to cherish, fragility to defend. Loss is a kind of external conscience, urging us to make better use of our finite days. As Whitman knew, our brief crossing is best spent attending to all that we see: honoring what we find noble, denouncing what we cannot abide, recognizing that we are inseparably connected to all of it, including what is not yet upon us, including what is already gone. We are here to keep watch, not to keep.

Quote of the Day

Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.

- Napoleon Hill

Friday, March 3, 2017

Quote of the Day

There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.

- Napoleon Hill

Thursday, March 2, 2017

What Kind Of Mind Creates A Book Like Sapiens? A Clear One

Ezra Klein: You told the Guardian that without meditation, you'd still be researching medieval military history — but not the Neanderthals or cyborgs. What changes has meditation brought to your work as a historian?

Yuval Harari: Two things, mainly. First of all, it's the ability to focus. When you train the mind to focus on something like the breath, it also gives you the discipline to focus on much bigger things and to really tell the difference between what's important and everything else. This is a discipline that I have brought to my scientific career as well. It's so difficult, especially when you deal with long-term history, to get bogged down in the small details or to be distracted by a million different tiny stories and concerns. It's so difficult to keep reminding yourself what is really the most important thing that has happened in history or what is the most important thing that is happening now in the world. The discipline to have this focus I really got from the meditation.

The other major contribution, I think, is that the entire exercise of Vipassana meditation is to learn the difference between fiction and reality, what is real and what is just stories that we invent and construct in our own minds. Almost 99 percent you realize is just stories in our minds. This is also true of history. Most people, they just get overwhelmed by the religious stories, by the nationalist stories, by the economic stories of the day, and they take these stories to be the reality.

My main ambition as a historian is to be able to tell the difference between what's really happening in the world and what are the fictions that humans have been creating for thousands of years in order to explain or in order to control what's happening in the world.


Ezra Klein: 

Before we leave the topic of meditation, I read that you do routinely 60-day retreats. That is an experience that I cannot imagine, so I would love to hear what those are like for you and what role they serve in your life.

Yuval Harari: First of all, it's very difficult. You don't have any distractions, you don't have television, you don't have emails, no phones, no books. You don't write. You just have every moment to focus on what is really happening right now, on what is reality. You come across the things you don't like about yourself, things that you don't like about the world, that you spend so much time ignoring or suppressing.

You start with the most basic bodily sensations of the breath coming in and out, of sensations in your stomach, in your legs, and as you connect to that, you gain the ability to really observe what's happening. You get clarity with regard to what's happening in your mind. You cannot really observe anger or fear or boredom if you cannot observe your breath. Your breath is so much easier than observing your anger or your fear.

People want to understand their anger, to understand their fear. But they think that observing the breath, oh, this is not important at all. But if you can't observe something as obvious and as simple as the breath coming in and out, you have absolutely no chance of really observing your anger, which is far more stormy and far more difficult.

What happens along the 60 days is that as your mind becomes more focused and more clear, you go deeper and deeper, and you start seeing the sources of where all this anger is coming from, where all this fear is coming from, and you just observe. You don't try to do anything. You don't tell any stories about your anger. You don't try to fight it. Just observe. What is anger? What is boredom? You live sometimes for years and years and years experiencing anger and fear and boredom every day, and you never really observe, how does it actually feel to be angry? Because you're too caught up in the angry.

The 60 days of meditation, they give you the opportunity. You can have a wave of anger, and sometimes it can last for days and you just, for days, you do nothing. You just observe. What is anger? How does it actually feel in the body? What is actually happening in my mind when I am angry? This is the most amazing thing that I've ever observed, is really to observe these internal phenomena.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.

- Grace Hopper

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Quote of the Day

Call it the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of Error: we can be wrong, or we can know it, but we can't do both at the same time.

- Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Yuval Harari on “Fake News”

Dan Ariely: I want talk a little bit about honesty. Fake news. I noticed in the Hebrew edition of the book, there was chapter that the headline was Something True: Why We Don’t Want to Know the Truth or something like that, and that chapter was gone…

But if you think about this new relationship we have with the truth in the last few months, do you think that that’s a significant change? I look at this and I’m horrified, but maybe I’m looking too shortly. Maybe in the long term it doesn’t matter. I need some control.

Yuval Harari: I’ll say this. This whole thing of fake news and lies being spread, it’s terrible, but there’s absolutely nothing new about it. I mean, this is the era of false truth. I would like to know when was the era of truth? I missed it. I missed the party. Was it the 1980’s? Was it the 1930’s? Was it the Middle Ages? When was the era of truth? I don’t think there is anything in the fake news of today that Joseph Goebbels, the minister of Nazi propaganda would have found unfamiliar. Fake news has been with us for thousands of years. Just think of the Bible.

In American courtrooms people swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth with their hand on a Bible.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.

- Albert Einstein

Monday, February 27, 2017

Quote of the Day

If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.

- Peter Singer

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Quote of the Day

If greed were not the master of modern man--ably assisted by envy--how could it be that the frenzy of economism does not abate as higher "standards of living" are attained, and that it is precisely the richest societies which pursue their economic advantage with the greatest ruthlessness? How could we explain the almost universal refusal on the part of the rulers of the rich societies--where organized along private enterprise or collective enterprise lines--to work towards the humanisation of work? It is only necessary to assert that something would reduce the "standard of living" and every debate is instantly closed. That soul-destroying, meaningless, mechanical, monotonous, moronic work is an insult to human nature which must necessarily and inevitably produce either escapism or aggression, and that no amount of of "bread and circuses" can compensate for the damage done--these are facts which are neither denied nor acknowledged but are met with an unbreakable conspiracy of silence--because to deny them would be too obviously absurd and to acknowledge them would condemn the central preoccupation of modern society as a crime against humanity.

- Ernst F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered