So that's how you can be a filthy planet hating economic rationalist bastard, and maintain reservations about the probability of global catastrophe from a changing climate, and still be very firmly in favour of a carbon price.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
So that's how you can be a filthy planet hating economic rationalist bastard, and maintain reservations about the probability of global catastrophe from a changing climate, and still be very firmly in favour of a carbon price.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Since four a.m.
Things have happened
While you slept soundly
I'm still not sleepy
Where do I go, now?
Have you been to Lothlorien?
I could give you
The full guided tour
It is never four a.m. there
Or it always is
I can't quite tell
We were on the fourth round
Of long island iced teas
And all laughing
And I wished I didn't know the punchline
We drowned our mirth
But I walked on water
You couldn't see it
I'd walk to Andromeda
Ascend the arithmetic hierarchy
And then some
Would you have followed
If I'd have asked?
Then again, I don't ask
A little while later
And it's still four a.m.
It's funny like that
No one has been here
I can smell their footprints
They didn't linger
I can see why
I could tell the ones left
I could answer their questions
I'm not yet that cruel
On a rip tide of conciousness
What were we still doing
On that bench in that place
At that time in that dream?
And listened, close, and deep,
Things I've learned
That I'd never tell you
And if I told you
You'd never believe me
And if you believed me
You'd scream yourself silent
And under diamonds you'd dance naked on a hill
As much as you'd never cared before
But you wouldn't want that
And neither would I
I keep coming back here
I play tricks with clocks
I'm drawn by the beauty
So says my attorney
How long since you wandered
Through the streets at four a.m.
And how long since you've wondered
What waits round the corner
You never realised
No one ever does
Where that terror abides
To roam unafraid
It was not worth the price
At four a.m., for a drunken hour or so
I'd say more than you'd hear
In a lifetime
Its four a.m.
Dawn will be here soon
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
Much more to the point, I can't take credit for the system. Its a well-known idea amongst voting theorists, called Borda Counting, although its very little utilised in the real world to my knowledge. I can't name a democracy that elects public officials this way.
I love impossibility theorems in mathematics - not such a thing doesn't happen to exist, like pink unicorns; such a thing, which sounds quite reasonable, a voting system that makes sense, can't possibly exist, no matter how hard you look, you'll never find one, any more than 2 + 2 will ever equal 5.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Of course, such artistry must not be abridged - but mayhap, it is shuffleable?
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
On the topic of my blog roll, are you all reading Marginal Revolution yet? It's really very good - in fact it may well be at its best the more it strays outside the economics professors' natural home territory of the GFC and real aggregate demand shocks and the like. As a non-expert it's a little hard for me to say.
OK, enough sucking up to my fellow bloggers. I'm off to draft yet more posts of my own - hopefully, I can build up a buffer and thus get a regular schedule going here.
Well, judging by the abstract, its not signficantly cooler after all, but then maybe it's more adaptive. After all, we devote substantial educational resources teaching people to visualise time as space, anyway: this is how to read a clock, this is how to read a displacement-time graph, and so on and so forth. In fact, it'd be nice to see some research done with young kids, or on heritability - to try and see how much of the effect measured in this study is genuinely "hard-wired" neural diversity, and how much is an acquired cognitive skill, akin to driving, or doing abstract algebra, rather than part of a person's genetic heritage. For that matter, if it is an acquired or at least acquirable ability, can we, and should we, set out to turn toddlers into synesthetics, of any variety? I'd say the possibilites are worth investigating, at the very least.
Thanks for the interjection! It conveniently allows me to return from a tangent to the point I wanted to make.
Time-space synesthesia isn't all that exotic, perhaps. However, this study is yet another piece of the mounting evidence the synesthesia is actually rather commonplace in the general population. Which is really surprising, when you think about it. Surely mental differences of this kind that strike us as unusual can't be common - or else we'd grow up knowing about them, and they therefore wouldn't in fact seem unusual anymore than some other mild deviation from the norm, such as left-handedness?
Except synesthesia is such a pervasive part of a person's cognitive framework, that many synesthetics presumably grow up assuming everyone sees the world the way they do. Why wouldn't they? And, since they don't behave radically different from your average member of the population, why would anyone else think to ask the kind of questions and perform the kinds of tests necessary to detect synesthetics? Well, no one really has, until modern psychology took a a scientific interest in the phenomenon.
So, then, imagine a truly exotic synesthsia - just as difficult to detect as the regular kind, but rarer, and stranger. Given how long it has taken the "boring" synestheisas to gain serious attention, it is surely not beyond the realms of possibility that a truly rare version might exist which modern science does not yet have any knowledge of whatsoever?
It is fair to ask, at this point, just how exotic could it be? There's a limited set of senses to combine, right?
Actually, overlapping sensory perceptions here can be broader than the senses that might immediately spring to mind - as the time/space example shows.
Consider, if you will, what you might call the empathetic sense - a person's intuitive reading of other people's body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and so on. This is an incredibly complex data source that the brain has evolved to devote many resources to detecting and processing; it sits at the threshold of may people's conscious awareness.
Now imagine a potential colour-empath synesthetic. They might look at an angry parent, and their brain would present that mood as a visible red colour. Or a distressed colleague might appear purple - perhaps with a green tint to indicate mild sleepiness. Or whatever.
You doubtless see where I'm going with this.Of course, most people who claim to see auras are probably just cranks, or wishful thinkers. Certainly anyone who claims to see a person's aura through an opaque wall, for an example, is probably just as likely to claim to see the aura when no person is on the other side at all - as repeated experiments have shown.
There is an appeal, though, to the idea that in this case fact might be, if not stranger than fiction, than at least strange enough to surprise us.
Stay tuned for a later post in which I try to tie this into ideas about other forms of cognitive atypicality (most especially that staple topic of mine, psychosis....)
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Bear with me, gentle reader!
I'm still waiting on a clear vote in the comment thread on one of them to determine which post to write next.... but that'll probably never happen.
If I haven't gotten a clear reader response by Thursday (my planned day off), I'm going to just pick an order for my planned posts and go with it.
Monday, July 13, 2009
My mother suggests the excellent Puff the Magic Dragon as the best song about Marijuana, and I thoroughly agree! Since she is not the internet nor my music collection, she counts as a legitimate source, so that is now my pick.
To me, the worrying thing about the latest Triple J All Time Hottest 100 is not the obvious flaws and things I would do differently (no Talking Heads? No Lou Reed? So little pop, or good hip-hop? Where's the love for female artists - Lucinda Williams, PJ Harvey, k.d. lang? Such heavy over-emphasis on the 90s? I mean you don't seriously think Smells Like Spirit is better than, say, Like a Rolling Stone do you? Its not even better than Lithium!) Everyone would have gripes and issues with any possible such list if they haven't compiled it themselves.
No, my problem is the converse - its so eerily similar to the list I might come up with if asked. For so many bands I like, my favourite song they do is their highest ranked and often sole showing on the list (at a glance, Breathe, No One Knows, Closer, Damnit, Chop Suey, Beds are Burning...) Radiohead gets as much doubtlessly unwarranted attention as bands like the Beatles do when its Rolling Stone critics and not Triple J votinf; and yet I can only think of the songs I'd cut to make room for even more Radiohead.
Songs I have loved passionately since first exposure like Float On and Common People are to me somewhat shock inclusions, and I don't know whether to be happy or sad about it.
Really, my musical tastes are pretty much just typical Triple J crowd + some stuff from my parents. Mixed in with a couple of influential friend's tastes; and even then it usually turns out my parents had tried and failed to get me to listen to those more obscure older bands when I was younger.
Oh well. As I replied when told my iPhone made me a conformist: "Yeah - conforming to awesome!"
Alright, that wasn't really a quick follow up, you got me. But I've been burned in the past where I've wanted to write on something current and topical, haven't managed to get all my thoughts down, and have come back to the draft 6 months later and realised there's nothing salvagable in such a completely dated post. So best to get it out of the way.
No more music for the immediate future was it seems a non-core promise. I will abide by the fair and democratic process of the comments thread in the previous post when deciding what to publish next, though. I promise.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
However to try and gauge if anyone is actually genuinely reading and engaging with my recent flurry of blog activity - given the impressively low 0 comments from 3 posts so far - I am going to pull an old trick and ask the audience to vote on which of the current "posts in potentiam" I should write first and put online. (Of course I reserve the right to ignore all votes and write about something more awesome like Ninja Turtles.)
1) My angry rant in which I throw scorn upon the political beliefs of 95% of the people I know, not to mention most of the rest of the population as well.
2) Latest perspectives on mental illness. The seed of this idea is to do with nomenclature - Bipolar Disorder is in some ways a better term Manic Depression, but has its own flaws. Watch me explain how!
3) Something with a more economics bent. A lot of what I've been reading over the last (6? 12?) months online has been from sources such as the excellent blog Marginal Revolution. All pop-level stuff of course - why scalpers exist, business models of the Web 2.0 revolution, the economics of amusement parks (for those Luna Park colleagues out there), that kind of thing. Nothing too dry about equations that predict which banks will fail to come through the GFC or anything like that.
4) A post that's a bit more out there and which I only expect a small handful of people to really appreciate but maybe is saying something more interesting than my derivative opinions on other topics.
5) What I think should be taught in schools instead of what is currently taught. This may segue into another planned and very important future post, Advice for Smart People (a category which includes all the people I've ever known to read this blog.)
6) Something else! Something else! As certain people I know might chant.
Religion, drugs and music will still feature in this blog, but not in the next post if I can avoid it. I prefer to mix things up.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
I'm vastly undereducated in a lot of key areas that are needed to really come up with more than just fluff on this vast topic - which I'll blame ironically on modern information overload. It'd be nice to have learned some Game Theory in a formal setting rather than getting the two-minute version via Wikipedia; but what I really kick myself for not taking while I was still at University was any Statistics, which high school had portrayed as boring stuff for people who couldn't hack real mathematics. That might be true, but knowing zero statistics is in retrospect the thing that most contributes to my utter scientific illiteracy. Every time I try to read any real, not completely dumbed down science, I am reminded of this fact. If you're going to care about information, it doesn't help if you can't talk meaningfully about uncertainty.
Anyway, out of this quagmire of uninformed opinions, I do occasionally come up with something that still seems worth pursuing upon closer inspection. The most significant is that I think Kolmogrov Complexity holds they key to unraveling a lot of misplaced notions about information in a formal setting, and has been underutilised for this task.
Ever since Shannon started the Information Age (a feat he gets precious little attention for), his ideas have been pretty dominant. For good reason. "Data" Entropy is a great formalisation of ideas about information, and its link to Physical Entropy is clearly one of those deep, profound links between disparate fields that Science fortuitously stumbles upon from time to time.
The problem is, the Entropy story about Information doesn't seem to quite capture our intuitions as well as it could. When a Creationist tries to argue that Intelligent Design follows from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, simple equations about solar energy show them to be ignorant and misinformed. But there is something seductive about the intuition that they're appealing to - that in some sense, PageRank and Quantum Computers and Mozart and all the rest coming about through what started as a chance process is simply implausible (in a whole different sense than mere gas particles huddling into the corner of the room.)
This might just be a broken intuition - we can't with finite brains really comprehend the calculable unlikelihood of the gas molecule trick, and we can't even begin to calculate what the odds of modern human civilisation coming into being by chance are; in fact, we can't even meaningfully formulate the question in a rigorous setting. Hence Randall Munroe's spot on snipe at the Drake Equation.
However, I stumbled upon a neat turn in the argument. It has all the rigour of an undergrad paper in Literary Criticism, and may just be because I find Computer Science much easier than Physics. But if we frame the debate in terms Kolmogrov Complexity, instead of Entropy alone, we can easily say:
What if the universe is like a giant file being subject to gzip style compression? So Entropy is increasing, but in a sense the universe is getting "more organised", and this crazy spike of local knowledge is like a symbol table for the rest of the universe. Thus, we can build room sized computers that generate concise descriptions of how galaxy sized super massive blackholes behave.
Of course for this to work in converting Intelligent Designers to your view, you have to argue the universe somehow evolved a genetic algorithm to zip itself. Maybe that argument goes "A generalised Second Law (which could have been made by a Deist God, or Theist God, or no god at all; the theory is "Design wise neutral") is the at heart of the Theory of Everything: Time maximises Entropy, which is actually information density - it just looks like randomness. All the rest - every other law of science and the universe that follows from them - is details."
You can make that argument without even brining in Kolmogrov Complexity I think, but it seems much clearer to me to use that analogy. I've never convinced myself that I really understood the subtleties of Thermodynamics; but I can explain how WinZip can make files shorter to a high school student.
This is a critically important question to my Christian friends, and probably of no interest to any other readers - many of whom may just (falsely) assume that it is obvious why genuine Christian beliefs are wrong, or most likely do not even have a clear idea of what genuine Christian beliefs are.
By Christian, I refer to systems of belief in which the Bible is considered the holy, inspired Word of God (for some specific meaning of "Holy", "Inspired", "Word" and "God"....) and is the supreme source of authority on religious matters. This includes most but not all people in the world who would self-describe as Christian - I think its fair to say all mainstream Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox denominations subscribe to the notion, although that core idea manifests in different ways. Protestants might argue that Catholic and Orthodox churches don't believe this, but I'd tend to say they just add more qualifiers. You could also pick other standards for what qualifies someone as Christian, e.g. belief in the Nicene creed. This is all tangential to my argument.
Suffice to say, there are a lot of reasons why I don't personally consider it possible that the whole Bible can be the inspired word of God. Some of my arguments are better than others. The shortest, most succinct "knockdown" objection, though, which rests mainly on the Bible itself and very little that's controversial about either the text or the world, is most succinctly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 (NIV):
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.The surrounding verses shed more light on this passage, and another take on the same line of reasoning appears in Romans 5:12-19.
We can blame these versus for the whole doctrine of Original Sin. While I don't think we can say with certainty that Paul believes in Original Sin in the sense a lot of theologians over the centuries have framed the idea, what is clear is that he is drawing a parallel between one man, Adam, bringing Sin into the world, and one man, Christ, sending Sin out of the world (first through the resurrection and then ultimately through the second coming.)
So an honest "biblical" Christian has a limited number of positions to take.
1. Adam was a real person, Christ was a real person. This is a perfectly consistent view to take of the Bible, makes the most sense of Paul's theology, is the most plausible explanation of what Paul himself likely believed, and is very popular in America and several other cultures (such as 15th century Christendom.) Sadly, in other places, where science is taken remotely seriously, it is impossible to defend this view. While you might be able to get a scientist to concede that its a theoretical possibility that homo sapiens sapiens once got to a single fertile couple population bottle neck, it's "only on the strictly philosophical grounds that few things are impossible" kinda point. Actual probability, close enough to zero to round down. And certainly even then this couple could not have been the first two homo sapiens (partly because that the idea doesn't even really make any sense. Evolution is essentially a continuum with only the apperance of discrete groupings any larger than the organism due to sampling.)
2. Adam is a metaphor, Christ is a metaphor. Completely solves the objection contained in 1. Leads to Gnosticism, or Thomas Jefferson style Deism, or some other similar historical Christian heresy. Many of these have some intellectual appeal, but are so different from mainstream modern belief as to justifiably not be called Christian, because they force you to completely change the reading of the entire New Testament. Christians have spent centuries generating solid arguments to try and knock down any possiblility of holding this view, for good reason.
3. Adam is a metaphor, Christ is a real person. And Paul is Satan. Or smoking crack, because this reading is only possible if Paul is insane or evil or a con artist or something else which completely undermines any authority he has on these topics and demands that we tear all his writings out of the Bible (which is all fine and holy except for Paul's bits, of course). This is a bit of a shame, because Paul is the intellectual father of Christian theology. Without Paul we might still have a religion which could perhaps be called Christianity, but while it wouldn't be as radically different as what case 2 would imply, it would still be radically different enough that this remains a losing move for a Christian to make in this particular exchange. It also brings up the interesting and painful question of what parts of the Bible we can then trust, and on what grounds. The end result of such a process occuring after the initial concession is not a pretty sight.
4. Some crazy compatiblistic compromise that tries to iron out one of the difficulties raised above. I made up one of these while committed to a psych ward. It was kind of a cross between 2 and 3. One day I might try to explain it coherently and sanely to someone in full, but I think it might be a little tricky to do so.
5. The Bible has serious flaws and is therefore not "inspired" - maybe parts of it are, but we can't reliably tell which parts. Therefore, by contradiction, Q.E.D., etc.
There is something critical about the argument I have made above that distinguishes it from other issues, like minor factual inconsistencies (how did Judas die?), bickering about translations or correct reading ("this passage is a poem of course you shouldn't expect it to be scientifically accurate"), historical doubts (Exodus doesn't exactly match other sources we have), and so forth; these all make Christiantiy less likely, to varying degrees, but this is far worse than just "less likely". It pushes the Bible beyond Inerrant, beyond Infallible, and indeed beyond Inspired. You have to go down the path of either full blown anti-science Creationism, or almost complete rejection of a core Christian doctrine. Or you must indulge in what I think amounts to massive intellectual dishonesty in your Bible reading, the kind that so offends Christians when ignorant atheists (or heretics) try to pull it off.
I've never come across a convincing escape route out of this particular flanking manouver (except, as noted, during the time when I was at my craziest.) The apologist appears surrounded on all sides with no way out. I could, of course, be wrong. But I think its far more likely Paul is the mistaken one here, and I can't see how Christians have any legitimate tactic left but to quote something like 1 Corinthians 3:19, and thus win their battle but concede mine.
Which, of course, means they ultimately have lost the war for my soul - supposedly the one that counts. Or maybe they haven't. But that's another one of my crazy heretical theories that can wait for another time.