Monthly Archives: November 2009

Hearts Vs. Heads

Our minds are big, and composed of many parts.  When our parts disagree, other folks tend to see some parts of our minds as more their allies than other parts.  And such folks will tend to support their allies by encouraging us to give more weight in our minds to their allied parts.

One big division in our mind seems to be between our “heart” and our “head.”  But oddly, literature seems to contain far more examples of folks being encouraged to follow their hearts than their heads.  Why this difference?  Katja Grace ponders:

My favorite explanation at the moment is that we always do what our hearts tell us, but explain it in terms of abstract fabrications when our hearts’ interests do not align with those we are explaining to. Rationalization is only necessary for bad news. … We dearly want to do whatever our listener would have, but are often forced by sensible considerations to do something else.

OK, but why do we not as often give the reverse excuse, that we cannot do what our listener and head wants, because our heart compels us otherwise?  I suggested:

We usually know more about what their heart wants than what their head wants. So if they were going to lie they could just lie about what their head wants – no need to invoke the heart.

Here’s another heart-over-head theory:

Maybe the heart is stupider than the head, so we’re more often tempted to fool someone by appealing to their heart. Similarly, we’d prefer to negotiate with the less sharp partner in a business partnership.

Bryan tells me that for the thinking vs. feeling, or “agreeableness”, personality type dimension, more agreeable folks trust their head less and cooperate more via positive heart feelings.  Negative heart feelings, such as anger, are described via other personality dimensions.  So does “think with your heart” really just mean “be more agreeable” and so “succumb to my social pressure”?   If so why don’t those negative feelings come as easily to mind?

Are there other plausible theories?

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See “To Be”

On who is who when people are copied, see John Weldon’s excellent short film “To Be.”  A while back I saw it on YouTube, but couldn’t find it a few months later; it had violated copyright.  So I actually bought a $15 dvd of it from the National Film Board of Canada.  But as Nathan Cook informs us, it is now on YouTube again, here.  Enjoy it while you can.

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Philosophy Kills

Philosophy is often presented as a rather useless, if perhaps interesting, type of thought.  Arguably, however, defective philosophies of mind are a leading cause of death today!  Exhibit one, Bryan Caplan:

What disturbed me was when I realized how low he set his threshold for [cryonics] success.  Robin didn’t care about biological survival.  He didn’t need his brain implanted in a cloned body.  He just wanted his neurons preserved well enough to “upload himself” into a computer.  To my mind, it was ridiculously easy to prove that “uploading yourself” isn’t life extension.  “An upload is merely a simulation.  It wouldn’t be you,” I remarked.  …

“Suppose we uploaded you while you were still alive.  Are you saying that if someone blew your biological head off with a shotgun, you’d still be alive?!” Robin didn’t even blink: “I’d say that I just got smaller.” … I’d like to think that Robin’s an outlier among cryonics advocates, but in my experience, he’s perfectly typical.  Fascination with technology crowds out not just philosophy of mind, but common sense.

Bryan, you are the sum of your parts and their relations.  We know where you are and what you are made of; you are in your head, and you are made out of the signals that your brain cells send each other.  Humans evolved to think differently about minds versus other stuff, and while that is a useful category of thought, really we can see that minds are made out of the same parts, just arranged differently.  Yes, you “feel,” but that just tells you that stuff feels, it doesn’t say you are made of anything besides the stuff you see around and inside you. Continue reading "Philosophy Kills" »

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Panspermia Confirmed

New Scientist:

It’s arguably the most scrutinised piece of rock ever. Now an even closer look at a meteorite from Mars suggests it may show signs of life after all.  …

One area of disagreement centred around nanocrystal magnetites in the rock, some of which appear to have chemical and physical features identical to those produced by contemporary bacteria. Sceptics of the biological explanation suggested that the magnetites were created when carbonate decomposed under high pressures and temperatures, …

Now a fresh analysis by McKay and colleagues rules out the carbonate decomposition explanation. … The possibility that the rock contains fossilised microbes received another boost in August when a team … showed that carbon in the meteorite was deposited in balmy water conducive to life.

Of course this doesn’t directly confirm longer distance panspermia.

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Hail The Unknown Explorer

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss; …
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

Kipling, If (or a damn fine woman)

This thanksgiving weekend, I give thanks and my sincerest admiration to the unknown explorer (of whatever space), over the unknown soldier or “successful” trail-follower.

Yesterday jorge commented:

We remember the flashy outliers. But most of those with “interesting” ideas also had fairly standard high-end resumes. For every independent thinker who wins the Nobel or makes a billion, there are hundreds who never got a top job or were denied tenure or had their projects rejected.

He’s right, I’m lucky.  For every luck-out like me who took an independent thinking strategy and achieved a bit of success, many others equally able have failed.  A hearty hail to them!!

Sure most unknown explorers weren’t focused on being altruists, any more than most unknown soldiers.  Many just couldn’t help themselves.  Nevertheless, we owe them gratitude, more than to unknown soldiers or grade-grubbing by-the-book intellectuals.  Soldiers, after all, help one side in a war at the expense of another side.

And when grade-grubbers compete to gain prestigious positions and then play it safe following current fashions, it is not clear what difference they make.  They waste vast resources in a grueling competition, but how different would things be had another grade-grubber beat them out to follow fashion in their stead?

In contrast, successful explorers of new intellectual ideas, business prospects, etc. displace few competitors and gain to themselves only a bit of the benefits we all get.  Let us be grateful to all explorers, both successful and not; even failures deserve honor for valiant attempts.

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Make More Than GPA

25% Drop in free playtime for 6-to-8-year-olds from 1981 to ’97, while homework more than doubled.  Time 30Nov, p.57.

My youngest son is a junior in high school, but won’t study for the SAT because he is too busy with classes; he won’t believe me that the SAT counts for as much as his GPA.  He does his own software projects, which is great, but mainly because he loves them.  My older son, newly at UVA, was too busy with classes, basketball and band to do his own projects or study for the SAT.

Most college students ignore my advice to take an independent study and really dive into something.  When I suggest that grad school applicants talk about their big projects, they say they were too GPA focused for those.  I tell grad students few will care what classes they took or grades they got; it is their degree and major papers that will matter.  Yet most still attend too much to in-their-face teachers and their grades.

Students seem overly obsessed with grades and organized activities, both relative to standardized tests and to what I’d most recommend: doing something original.  You don’t have to step very far outside scheduled classes and clubs to start to see how very different the world is when you have to organize it yourself.

For example, if you try to study a subject in depth without following a textbook or review, you’ll have to decide for yourself which sources seem how relevant to your topic. If you try to add something to the subject you’ll have to decide what changes are how feasible and interesting.  Doing these may feel awkward at first, but they will be very useful skills later in life.   Similar skills come from writing your own game or starting your own business or composing your own album.

Most of the interesting academics I know spent lots of time when young structuring their own “unstructured” activities; GPA fanatics usually have few interesting thoughts of their own.  Alas, today even structured activities reward dandelion over orchid abilities.  For example, the SAT math test once had harder problems, letting orchids shine on a hard problem, to compensate for missing easy ones.  Today’s SAT only rewards never ever making a mistake on easy problems.

Inspired by a conversation with Nicole Iannacone.

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Bad Emulation Advance

You may recall my guess is that within a century or so, human whole brain emulations (ems) will induce a change so huge as to be in the top four changes in the last hundred million years. So major advances toward such ems are big news:

IBM’s Almaden Research Center … announced … they have created the largest brain simulation to date on a supercomputer. The number of neurons and synapses in the simulation exceed those in a cat’s brain; previous simulations have reached only the level of mouse and rat brains. … C2 … re-create[s] 1 billion neurons connected by 10 trillion individual synapses. C2 runs on “Dawn,” a BlueGene/P supercomputer. …  DARPA … is spending at least US $40 million to develop an electronic processor that mimics the mammalian brain’s function, size, and power consumption. The DARPA project … was launched late last year and will continue until 2015 with a goal of a prototype chip simulating 10 billion neurons connected via 1 trillion synapses. The device must use 1 kilowatt or less (about what a space heater uses) and take up less than 2 liters in volume. …

“Each neuron in the network is a faithful reproduction of what we now know about neurons,” he says. This in itself is an enormous step forward for neuroscience, .. Dawn … takes 500 seconds for it to simulate 5 seconds of brain activity, and it consumes 1.4 MW.

“Enormous step” seems a bit too much, but even so Randal Koene agrees this is big news:

This recent demonstration of computing power in simulations of biologically inspired neuronal networks is a good measure to indicate how far we have come and when it will be possible to emulate the necessary operations of a complete human brain. Given the storage capacity that was used in the simulation, at least some relevant information could be stored for each updatable synapse in the experiment. That makes this markedly different than the storageless simulations carried out by Izhikevich.

Even if big news, this is not good news.  You see, ems require three techs, and we have clear preferences over which tech is ready last:

  1. Computing power – As a steadily and gradually advancing tech, this makes the em transition more gradual and predictable.  Here first only expensive ems are available, and then they slowly take over jobs as their costs fall.  Since it is a large industry with many competing producers, we need worry less about disruptions from unequal tech access.
  2. Brain scanning – As this is also a relatively gradually advancing tech, it should also make for a more gradual predictable transition.  But since it is now a rather small industry, surprise investments could make for more development surprise.  Also, since the use of this tech is very lumpy, we may get billions, even trillions, of copies of the first scanned human.  And the first team to make that successful scan might gain much power, if it hasn’t made cooperative deals with other teams. By the time a second, or hundredth, human is scanned most of the economic niches may be filled with copies of the first few ems.
  3. Cell modeling – This sort of progress may be more random and harder to predict – a sudden burst of insight is more likely to create an unexpected and sudden em transition.  This could induce large disruptive inequality in economic and military power, both among teams trying to succeed and among ordinary folks displaced by em labor.

This new DARPA project seems focused more on advancing special computing hardware than cell-modeling.  If so, it makes scenario #1 less likely, which is bad.  Can someone please tell these DARPA knuckle-heads that they are funding exactly the wrong research?

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Parenting Is Not About Kids

Bryan Caplan wondered why parents forget a kids view:

The mom and dad in these stories  … pointlessly alienate their kids by pushing them into activities that aggravate parent and child alike.  … [they] largely ignore all sorts of kid-on-kid abuse, leaving their older sons in a brutal Hobbesian jungle.  When they do respond, it’s awfully arbitrary. …  Many parents really do forget what’s it’s like to be a kid. … I honestly don’t know why.  I bet Robin Hanson would have a clever functionalist story.

I commented:

Parents seem so eager to appear adultish that they alienate their kids. How could parents possibly care so much about what other adults think of them than they sacrifice their own kids happiness?  It is almost as if parents cared more about being respected than having fun.

Bryan responded:

[This] assumes that other parents care about your parenting far more than they actually do.  In reality, most parents are too tired and preoccupied to worry if somebody else‘s parents aren’t “adultish” enough.

But Bryan presumes we care less about the judgments others make when they make snappier judgments.  Yet we all care about how our surface features appear to others, especially when those others make snap judgments – after all if they judged more carefully, our inner beauty might shine through.  And the busier are other parents, the snappier are their judgments.

Katja Grace was once similarly puzzled: Continue reading "Parenting Is Not About Kids" »

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Conspiracies Confirmed

Let it not be said that authorities never accept conspiracy theories. At the Post Gary Weiss endorsed two:

Here’s a field guide to prevalent Wall Street conspiracy theories, with each one graded … on a sliding scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being “fugetaboutit” and 5 being “damn right.”

— Goldman Sachs as giant vampire squid

Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi seemed to touch a raw nerve in the yammering classes with his July 2009 article on the breadth of Goldman Sachs’ influence in Washington, on Wall Street, and everywhere.

Goldman Sachs, as described by Taibbi, was a “giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.” … the general thrust of his piece was correct. Goldman does have a way of coming out on top in every bad situation. Taibbi didn’t mention it, but Goldman was instrumental in ousting New York Stock Exchange chief executive Richard Grasso when he proved to be an embarrassment. … Goldman did have a key role in the mortgage-derivatives fiasco, and its tentacles have spread through government for eons. It’s a classic case of overconcentration of power. And if you don’t believe me, just ask Adam Storch, 29, the ex-Goldman executive who just became chief operating officer of the Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement division. …

Category: Alternate history, Scope: 5, Durability: 3, Crowd Appeal: 5, Plausibility: 4

— Tim Geithner is in the pocket of the big bankers

I debated whether to even include this in the list of conspiracy theories, because the evidence for it is so overwhelming. There’s no question that Tim Geithner likes to talk to people who run major financial institutions, and this was long before e-mails were released showing that as Treasury secretary his telephone buddies included all the major CEOs of the big banks. That was the case as well when Geithner was president of the New York Fed. No secret about it. The bankers freely admitted that they chat it up with Geithner.

One can argue that there’s nothing wrong with this, that it’s not at all surprising for a financial neophyte to lean on people at, for instance, the aforementioned Goldman Sachs — particularly when it employs one of Geithner’s predecessors, his confidant E. Gerald Corrigan. The price of getting all this terrific expertise is that it makes you seem beholden to the people from whom you’re getting all this terrific expertise, and so it is with Geithner. While it isn’t kind to say that Geithner is in the pocket of Wall Street, there’s a bit too much lint flying around to ignore.

Category: Hidden factors, Scope: 2, Durability: 5, Crowd Appeal: 3, Plausibility: 5

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Rah Price Manipulators

Matt Yglasias complains Climate Change Futures Markets would be manipulated:

This idea has some merit, but let’s not get carried away with ourselves. The underlying intuition here is that talk about climate change is cheap, but if we made people put their money where their mouth is we’d force them to speak honestly. The problem is that when coal and oil interests or the Koch family pays people money to mislead people about climate science or clean energy policies they are putting their money where their mouth is. Big money is at stake in this issue, and it could be easily worthwhile for polluters to lose money on a prediction market if that helped undercut support for clean energy legislation.  The problem is that just about any metric you might like becomes contaminated once people know there are large political economy stakes.

No!  Some metrics are more corruptible than others, and prediction market prices are especially incorruptible.  In fact, big money manipulators with legislative agendas would be good for climate change futures markets!  If most anyone can play, we expect a real money prediction market to get more accurate as more big money powers are known to want to manipulate them.

We have explained the mechanism in a 2009 Economica theory article, and confirmed its predictions in two lab experiment articles, one published in JEBO in 2006. Here is a summary: Continue reading "Rah Price Manipulators" »

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