I caught a good episode of Derren Brown 'The Mentalist - The System'. UK magician Brown had come up with a way to 'beat probability theory'.

Derren Brown


The System, a Channel 4 special in which Brown shared his "100 per cent guaranteed" method for winning on the horses, was first shown on 1 February 2008.[12]

The show was based around the idea that a system could be developed to "guarantee a winner" of horse races. Cameras followed an ordinary member of the public, Khadisha, as Brown anonymously sent her correct predictions of five races in a row, before encouraging her to place as much money as she could on the sixth race.


In one scene a group of bookmakers was placed in a room and asked to use probability theory to calculate the odds of what would follow. Each person was asked to select a photo at random from a set of photos of people's faces, and then to stand at a random location. But Brown correctly predicted the exact photo and location which each person would choose. The probability of this happening was calculated at less than 1 in a billion!

Brown had found the big flaw in probability theory :D

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In http://www.overcomingbias.c... I thought you made some good points about old thinkers. My question is, are there better books to read than "The Prince" or "The Art of War" about conflict and strategy that are more recent and worthwhile? Specifically looking for a book that would apply those concepts to social life.

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Robin, I'd be interested in your take on the Google Threatening to Exit China story. There seems to be a lot of connections with topics you cover on this blog, like signaling, compromise, China, policy/politics, etc.

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As you get nearer and nearer to the reasons why peak-oilers believe in peak oil, it becomes clearer. I don't think it is about getting easily impressed. Oil is a fossil fuel. Someday, there will be peak oil.

About "peak oil" being in the times around us, what is the evidence? In general, the easier areas of extraction are all already mapped out. Most extraction in the future is going to be from pain in the butt offshore installations or other such extreme areas.

When Matt Simmons visited saudi arabia, he saw them using advanced tech to withdraw oil, expensive installations that would not have been there had the going been easy. (Bayes theorem in action), he deduced that if the saudis are facing difficulties, everyone is going to have a tough time.

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Addendum (slight elaboration of my generalized near/far conception)

If you pan out to a high enough level of abstraction then

'far' = signalling'near= action/potential

I'm convinced this is a deep (fundamental) joint, cleaving reality, since these abstractions seem to run through multiple domains in a fairly striking way. To make this intuitively clearer, I whimsically choose these nicknames

'far'= show'near' = go

Because far mode deals with signals ('Show') and near mode with action/potential ('Go'). I borrowed the 'Go' term from a non-fiction book on the drug war, which explained that 'Go' is the slang word drug dealers commonly use to refer to money (because it gets things done - it's a 'social action-potential').

so, in cognitive science,

Emotions are Show (far), Desires are Go (near)Love is Show (far), Sex is Go (near)

Now I'm suggesting that the same principle can be generalized to other domains. For instance in physics,

Fields are Show (far), Forces are Go (near)

Because fields mediate signals, whereas forces actually lead to detailed observable results (exerting action/potential on matter),

In logic I think that,

Categorization is Show (far), Bayes is Go (near),

Because categorization is concerned with knowledge representation and cross-domain sharing of knowledge between sub-agents (signalling or Show), whereas Bayes is for precise decison making (actions, or Go)

But the big insight is that the Show (far concept) seems to include the Go (near concept). For instance sex (near/go) doesn't include love (far/show), but love can include sex. Speaking whimsically again, I say that 'Show wraps Go'. If I am right, Categorization must trump Bayes.

"For every show there is a go, and that's what makes the world go around" - MJG

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See here.

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What's the canonical way to get technically proficient with signaling theory as it's applied on this blog? Is a good understanding of signaling theory isomorphic to an understanding of game theory? Of microeconomics?

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From April 2009 WSJ on natural gas:

Just three years ago, the conventional wisdom was that U.S. natural-gas production was facing permanent decline. U.S. policy makers were resigned to the idea that the country would have to rely more on foreign imports to supply the fuel...But new technologies and a drilling boom have helped production rise 11% in the past two years. Now there's a glut...

But who knows if oil and gas are comparable in this instance.

I would bet that long-term tech trends present the maximally difficult prediction problem. Engineering education's purpose, arguably, is to expose details that are otherwise too Near to see comfortably. Tech forecasting requires us to extrapolate all those details successfully over a Far timescale.

There are reasons to underestimate the chance of discovering game-changing new technologies, though. Such predictions look like wishful thinking, and it's better to prepare for the worst anyway. Issues like oil consumption, having already been enshrined as Official Objects Of Controversy, are probably especially hard to reason about. Making a public prediction that new tech will appear and neutralize one of the powerful constituencies maintaining such controversy sends many bad signals and few good.

And then there's the reporting problem. Reporters are probably the people responsible for the belief that we'd all be living in dome-enclosed cities by now. A construction like "highly likely eventual future technological development, given the stakes involved" is hard to parse, and even harder to explain to a lay audience.

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Peak Oil is a conspiracy-ish theory that says that we cannot practically increase the rate of extraction of fossil fuels much higher than it is today. It also claims that this will essentially eliminate economic growth for the foreseeable future, and possibly lead to war and further economic disasters.

If true, it means that most conventional expectations about the next few decades are likely to be wrong. The theory has significant implications for both public policy and our personal planning.

So is it right? I have tended to think not, but that is based on rather superficial outside-view considerations. When I look at the arguments and evidence in detail, they appear reasonably credible. But perhaps I am easily impressed...

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Robin, it's the start of a new decade, how about your 10 predictions for the coming 10 years.Yes, I know it's a tired old trope.... but nevertheless it's a good one, and I'd like to hear yours.

BUT - 10 predictions *you'd put money on* (if an appropriate prediction market existed)

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Well, if 'far' mode is thinking in terms of abstract categories, and 'near' mode is thinking in terms of detailed recipes, then I think the concepts on my list are correctly classified under the modes they invoke.

If it doesn't fit known literature its because these are transhuman near/far modes rather than human ones ;)

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How does one know that "near/far" is something real, rather than something merely seductive like, say, the "yin/yang" distinction of eastern philosophy - which persist after thousands of years to this day as an item of serious belief but which is not, as far as I know, anything more than a monster family-resemblance concept.

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Well researched overview and one other particulalry unseemly pick revealed: The ambassador to Trinidad (even her unemployed high school student son gave the maximum contribution):


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I believe the phrase 'When AI achieves human intelligence' is ridiculous, and sufficient to dismiss the speaker. Intelligence as a 1 dimensional measurement should be retired if we care to maintain the illusion of anticipating the future.

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I don't think this fits with the many papers on the subject, so I think you are just making this stuff up.

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A bit more on Ambassadorships and the spoils system continuing under Obama. I found at least 1 shockingly unqualified person, that makes Palin look like a heavyweight:

Sarah Palin would be a better pick than this heiress


It seems improbable that this guy is a belize expert:

"Indian American businessman Vinai K. Thummalapally was nominated for ambassador to Belize. He becomes the first Indian American ambassador. Who is Thummalapally? Well, the political bundler helped raise $100,000 for Obama. More importantly, he taught the President how to make dal when they were college roomies."



"A top fundraiser for President Barack Obama who heads up a lobbying practice in Florida is Obama's pick for ambassador to Portugal.Allan Katz, of counsel at Akerman Senterfitt in Tallahassee, Fla., is chair of the firm-wide government affairs and public policy group. He raised at least $500,000 for Obama's 2008 campaign, putting him among the top fundraisers nominated for an ambassadorship, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He also served on the 15-member platform committee for last year’s Democratic national convention, according to his firm profile."


"David Adelman, a partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan who was a bundler for President Barack Obama's campaign, is the president's pick for ambassador to Singapore. Other prominent lawyer-bundlers chosen for ambassadorships include Williams & Connolly’s Laurie Fulton for Denmark; Williams & Connolly’s Howard Gutman for Belgium; David Jacobson, formerly of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, for Canada; and Foley Hoag’s Barry White for Norway. All have been confirmed."

An alternate list to wikipedia of all Obama ambassadorship appointments:


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