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Comment Re:This this not evolution (Score 4, Interesting) 253

It's only evolution if there's a reasonably clear link between your genetic makeup and your ability/probability to reproduce.

Two errors here. First, you mean fitness, not evolution. Second, only the charismatic megafauna of our genetic endowment has a "reasonably clear" one paragraph synopsis. Try to figure out whether a small affinity change of some obscure serotonin receptor involved in bone growth regulation is deleterious or not. I dare you.

The rest of your post seems to be spinning around the observation that the genetic fitness function is shaped by cultural memes, which are themselves co-evolving. It's almost as if natural selection has no master plan.

Let's do a thought experiment. Imagine you have a cluster of ten genes where having eight of the A alleles makes you a genius, nine make you more than a little batshit, and the full set of ten make you A Scanner Darkly on a bad trip. On the other side, having five or fewer amounts to destination short bus. Clearly the A alleles of these genes code for smartness, and we all want that.

But then, if two eights pair up and start a family, you end up with The Royal Tenenbaums.

What happens within the population to the proportion of A alleles of this gene cluster? For the vast majority of people, an extra dose of the A allele would boost their intellectual powers and presumably their reproductive fitness. There would broadly be an increase. But then you lose enough to Van Gogh attrition that it cancels out the bulk upward drift.

Likely outcome: a barber pole that spins, but goes nowhere. Yet everyone presumes there's some direction clearly labeled as "up" within the genetic pell mell.

I listened to a podcast recently where a professor said that his students are routinely shocked to discover that simple voting systems contain cycling majorities.

If Condorcet's paradox disorients, what's really going on in evolution is Kowloon Walled City (which had a population density of 1,255,000 inhabitants per square kilometer before it was torn down, roughly what you'd get if everyone in Texas moved to Manhattan, as they framed it at 99% Invisible).

We really ought to step back most of the time and view evolution as a kind of ideal gas law, as something best understood at the sweep of statistical mechanics. Yes, every atom is doing something explicable if you prefer to drill down. So was every inhabitant of Kowloon Walled City, more or less.

Comment Google calculator amazes me (Score 1) 783

1 light year ^ 3 * 10 kg/liter / mass of sun

And it works.

A cubic lightyear of lead has roughly 4.3e21 solar masses. We're talking fourth floor penthouse of the H-R diagram. Finding out what happens when this block of material is released from the uniform density tractor beam is probably harder than achieving an accurate regatta start on a windy day the day after an epic pub crawl. You'd need an assload of litz wire to release the uniform density tractor beam instantaneously over such a large volume.

Hamilton reaches for the jack-knife he forgot to bring. I wonder why that came to mind.

Comment wrong debunked (Score 1) 783

Sure it is. In fact, it's almost always wrong. But it's wrong in a useful way, and it's steadily getting less wrong.

You're having so much fun being glib because you can no longer remember that you're missing the point.

There's something deeply wrong about using "wrong" as a synonym for "could be improved". Why don't we just standardize the terminology and refer to an AAA- credit rating as "defective"?

The people who try to make hay out of science being "wrong" barely believe in the circumstances where the wrongness of science would come into play: the first minute after the big bang, the billion year evolution of black holes. It's almost like your optician flashing up the fine print then observing when you stumble over a few words that your literacy is suspect.

So true. We're a tiny bit sketchy on the behaviour of matter heated to 200 billion degrees. Say it now, I know we can: science is wrong. Not wrong like your aunt, but wrong in the most rigorous conceivable sense.

We don't have a problem with wrong. We sometimes have a problem with glamorous batshit.

Is the anthropic principle even science? I've heard mention recently from two distinct source a "change of substrate" novel entitled Dragon's Egg. My conjecture is that any interesting life form will view its universe as "finely tuned". Seth Lloyd has a definition of complexity oriented toward where the action occurs: complexity that results from short programs, but only after they run for a long time. You end up with a frothy foam of tractability and intractability. I conjecture that's where life becomes possible, in any substrate. And it will always appear finely tuned. But when we finally meet the cheela, we'll discover no common ground whatsoever in how we construe the fine tuning. The cheela will be totally obsessed with some filigree of gluon plasma structure and our wonderful periodic table and its ionic oddball partnerships will appear to them as some totally arbitrary patten expressed by Rule 30.

We're pretty sure that universes that don't exist are lifeless. Does this observation belong at the far end of the spectrum of very weak anthropic principles? What a crock of flamboyant batshit.

The coolest thing I've come across recently that had somehow not come to my attention is the Helium flash.

This runaway reaction quickly climbs to about 100 billion times the star's normal energy production (for a few seconds) until the temperature increases to the point that thermal pressure again becomes dominant, eliminating the degeneracy.

OK, this is normal.

The helium flash is not directly observable on the surface by electromagnetic radiation. The flash occurs in the core deep inside the star, and the net effect will be that all released energy is absorbed by the entire core, leaving the degenerate state to become nondegenerate.

Wait a minute, here, I'm accustomed to factors of 100 billion showing up on the instruments. The neutrino flux is spectacular enough to act as a cooling mechanism. They're bombarding us in numbers we can barely conceive, yet our science is so weak we can barely detect them. Well, they do slip out of maximum security solar confinement like a hot knife through butter.

The mean free path of a photon in intergalactic space is about 10^23 km (10 billion years), and these are positively garrulous by comparison. The mean free path of a neutrino is one light year of solid lead, whereas the average density of the universe is about one proton per cubic meter. To a neutrino, the entire universe is about as substantial as Bruce Willis in a movie where every review begins with a spoiler alert.

You aunt is wrong about some object in front of her very eyes, yet we apply no statute of limitations on wrongness 50 magnitudes out.

Comment foley artists love the Phantom Menace (Score 1) 376

When Ian McKellen couldn't make a sufficiently robust "ugh" for his beat-down by Sauramon, they carted him off to a screening room, slapped on some headphones, set up some microphones, and starting playing the Phantom Menace.

I think the original Star Wars was a virtual particle emitted from the vacuum state followed by a long foreclosure by the Bank of Heisenberg. The whole experience integrates to zero.

Comment Seagull logic 101 (Score 2) 376

The reason is simple, it's because Lucas is getting to viewers at a much younger age, with a more widely distributed product.

So the calibration pinnacle on your scale of cultural importance is Dr Seuss, Bugs Bunny, Walt Disney, and Norman Rockwell? I'm pretty sure that Kubrick and Kurosawa were important influences on both Spielberg and Lucas. By your metric, it's surprising we remember Newton at all.

I've grown to hate just about any idea with an immediacy transform embedded inside, because its so much a tool of the newly wealthy to forget that they ever stood on the shoulders of giants whatsoever. In the immortal words of Finding Nemo: "Mine." Seagull logic 101.

Lucas chose a curious path to illustrate the foreboding nature dark side of the force: by making the next five movies. When we were slow to catch on, he added Jar Jar. No wonder artists drink.

Comment Re:TLDR version (Score 4, Insightful) 252

We just discuss computer parts endlessly, right? I hope some smarter moderators show up soon.

I don't mind so much about the decline in the participation standards, if there has in fact been a decline (not counting the glory days when the lamers had five digit ids).

What I tremendously resents is the decline in the wording of the story summaries, which become ever more useless and trollish by the minute. It's not the people here that will drive me away. It's the decline in story summaries and the attitude of the editorial oversight which permits this to happen.

If we had a moderation system to assign "vague-assed trollery" to the story submissions, I would instantly tweak my filter such that I never see these stories again (and the 300 comments out of 500 adjusting the crookered picture frame).

The only reason I haven't jumped ship already is that most of the alternatives have been violently Twitterized. I'm determined to think in full paragraphs. I just can't wait for the headline "Generation Z rediscovers the paragraph." Maybe if I'm lucky--and live long enough to see it--the paragraph will become retro cool.

Comment Re:I've given up (Score 1) 605

There's no coping. There's NO coping at all.

I've thought hard about this for a long time, and I don't agree. Biological systems can't be so fragile as all that, or we wouldn't be here. The central feature of positions like yours is that you think every change or set-back is additive (if not multiplicative). I don't think this turns out to be true in complex systems. Fermi estimation argues against it. It could potentially be pretty rough. Rough enough that you can even remember the time when life without coffee seemed like a big deal. I don't think one can know how rough it might get without living through it.

On the other side, we have no precedent to believe we're capable of pulling off the political solutions required to forestall global warming. Many people seem to think that if we run around shouting about how we have a climate change gun pointed at our heads, that we'll suddenly become able to engage in global consensus like never before. This seems to come from a similar place as the belief that capital punishment deters crime. The majority of criminals aren't rational when committing the most serious crimes. They become more rational when facing arrest. What's the rational action when arrest leads fairly directly to the electric chair?

Between our political capacity to forestall global warming and our ability to cope with the mess that results, I put longer odds on the former. Maybe in the next iteration of collective planet destruction we can build on our (failed) effort this time around to take the wise action. Perhaps 300 years from now global collective action to avert nasty outcomes will seem like child's play. I don't think we're that species yet.

Comment Re:young versus old (Score 2) 375

In its last quarter, Apple made about 50 billions and achieved an increase of around 25% of its earnings. Yet the value of its stock dropped because analysts expected more. What kind of message do you think this situation sends to executive?

If the executive is math literate, it sends the message that the street's valuation lead the harvesting of value.

For example, on an apple farm, one might survey the number of apples on the trees in August and predict an all-time bumper crop, but then the weather does something funky in early September and the harvest is only the best harvest of the past decade.

Wow, isn't that amazing. Smart people anticipate future fairly accurately, then make corrections on the day.

I hope you've got youth, because you're light on discernment. Or maybe you're wealthy enough to retire whatever age you might be because you shrewdly jumped on the Apple IPO six months before they delivered the first iPhone. Isn't it amazing what Apple has managed to accomplish in six short years with no previous history or market reputation.

Comment I don't trust TFA (Score 1) 171

Maybe the common thread behind the similarity is the method of reducing the problem so as to run efficiently on your favorite big iron.

I don't trust their portrayal of what they've discovered as far as I can spit. The details given are far below the threshold of critical thinking. Properly, a claim like this needs a triple helping of sharp knives.

Comment Re:It's math (Score 1) 171

It should be illegal, because the harm it does to society beats all terrorists there can ever be.

You added that to get your post through the AC filter, didn't you? Your starkly worded post was veering into the territory of a sane and deeply held perspective on life. But it turns out you were man enough to rebalance the force, with your cross-category rampage. FYI you're deep into Chapter 8, "How Judgments Happen" from Thinking Fast and Slow.

An underlying scale of intensity allows matching across diverse dimensions. If crimes were colors, murder would be a deeper shade of red than theft.

Intensity matching is used to answer profound questions such as this:

  • Julie read fluently when she was four years old.
  • How tall is a man who is as tall as Julie was precocious?

Kahneman adds "Not very hard, was it?" and "We will also see why this mode of prediction matching is statistically wrong ..."

bad_math_education worse than UniversalQuantifier(toxic_misapplication_of_force)

There's a pattern here your math seems not to detect.

Comment contingent factoid of convenience (Score 1) 203

We've heard this one before, over and over again: pirates are the biggest spenders.

Time to break out The Half-Life of Facts. I love the implied syllogism behind this kind of statement.

contingent_fact => radical_change

Of course, radical_change has no impact on contingent_fact. Just not going to happen.

Comment no gun consoles (Score 1) 600

Let me summarize my previous post with a question.

Has there ever been a society where the lazy melted away where women didn't die in childbirth--no matter how young or how beautiful--over random weaknesses of constitution?

When your wife is dying in childbirth, that must be about the most helpless feeling a man can experience. I suspect it's bad enough to make a man re-invent civilization all over again, when we've only barely rid ourselves of the beast.

Comment Re:Additionally (Score 1) 600

I have had no more success trying to convince them that conducting an economy based on precious metals after the collapse of American society will be difficult than I have had convincing them that the collapse of society -- for which they have also been stockpiling assault rifles, BTW -- is unlikely to occur in their lifetimes.

These behaviours have very little to do with rational belief systems. These are wish fulfillment attitudes. Some people get a boner over survival of the fittest. Or they feel crowded by the success of the human race. Part of this is valuing relative advantage over absolute advantage. But hey, won't that assault rifle look tremendously less cool when their wife dies in childbirth.

I don't have any great bias against the delusions of others ... until it interferes with making a positive contribution to avoiding the worst. But why worry? Of course, with the big assault rifle you can kidnap a doctor. "What do you mean, you've never delivered a baby? You're a doctor, aren't you?" Many people with assault rifles have shit for brains. This contributes to making a single-use tool so appealing.

I suspect this movie doesn't stray too far from actual events. To Live:

Since all doctors have been sent to do hard labor for being "reactionary academic authorities", the students are left as the only ones in charge, despite being so young.

They doubt that this is a good state of affairs, so they find a real doctor (starving), feed him some steamed buns so that he can function. Problem solved. Almost.

However, Fengxia begins to hemorrhage, and the nurses panic, admitting that they do not know what to do. The family and nurses seek the advice of the doctor, but find that he has overeaten and is semiconscious.

Welcome to your future life.

Comment big data / machine learning (Score 2) 108

I was in the mood to buy a DRM-free ebook or two at the discount price, but after five minutes at O'Reilly I gave up the hunt. There's no category in the subject index for big data / machine learning. And neither did I quickly identify a filter on level of presentation. No, I don't need a quick review of the data structures in R.

I found a free download entitled "Big Data Now: 2012 Edition". There are some tidbits of interest in here, but over all it's a little too button-down for my tastes. It mentioned Apache Mahoot for machine learning. Hey, I'd buy an intermediate to advanced book on that at half price--if such a book existed.

One of the problems with buying on price opportunity is that you frame the problem of "given this pile, what's best for me" instead of "given what's best for me, is there anything of note in this pile at all". I'm reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow and presently basking in the availability glow of just how stupid humans are, most of the time. We're idiots for framing and anchoring effects.

I mean, I nearly rolled off the bed in hysterics last night when I read that most people find it easy enough to list six occasions where they have behaved assertively (and this activity causes them to report having an assertive personality) but asking people to list twelve occasions where they've been assertive is hard work and causes people to doubt that they are really so assertive after all. Twelve considered difficult? I don't need no book on big data, I can type it in by hand in JSON notation wherever the need arises. I'm assertive pretty much whenever I sit at a keyboard or open my mouth or pull up to a four-way traffic control. You know, in a group setting you don't need to control the outcome. One can accomplish a lot by quietly (yet assertively) trimming away the worst stupidities. Well-timed application of the pruning shears to group psychology seems assertive enough to me.

I have a recommendation shelf at Goodreads for the narrow category "Computer Science". This presently includes many O'Reilly book: Regular Expressions, Haskell, JavaScript, TCP/IP. Someday, if Goodreads exploits big data in some useful way, this might actually feature the books from O'Reilly where there was any chance in hell of me making a purchase.

First suggestion: refine the "not interested" button to include "been there, done that". Regular expressions are way cool for the first decade of one's programming career.

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