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Monday, July 27, 2009

Temporary Insanity

I can not honestly say the time was stolen from me. The previous me, the one that had control over my body from Thursday through Sunday, just made decisions with the time that current me questions the usefulness of. Much time has been spent with cyclists discussing cycling and watching the Tour de France. And now I've tried to add a random picture to the post as a learning exercise and it does not seem to be going well.

Here are some inadequate responses to the very nice post y'all have made:

On Insecurity: I once read that Tibetans have no translation for "self-hatred". My immediate thought was "That's impossible". Ego being the social gauge, how can a society not have citizens with this..... ability?

Bormes les Mimosas: You're killing me. You're smiling while you're killing me.

Puritans in Thailand: Your mom is killing me a decade before I was born! What an incredible life! Truly, thanks for sharing.

Why I Love France: Paul Allen owns a 200mm yacht with 2 helo pads and a submarine port. He also built the Sci Fi Museum here in Seattle. He may not be saving the world, but he is having fun.


Somehow all these posts seem to connect. Time, ego, and pleasure. Somehow ego has evolved to make us do things that take up our time in activities that do not give us pleasure. Like drycleaning and watching the stock market. Where is Cotton, I'm starting to feel revolutionary.


SS said...

@ Dink,

sorry to pierce your so left coast bubble but I am pretty sure Paul Allen has at least one of his yachts docked in Nice if not in Bornes les Mimosa. Perhaps our resident scholar can weigh in - if she doesnt' know Paul he's that American with all the tech money who never invented anything just buys it.

Liked the picture, all kidding aside I also like Paul Allen and thoght I read about him yachting in the Mediterranean off France.


Thai said...

Welcome back.

Seems like we need a Haiku for the image... Deb or SS, care to grace us with an attempt?

I lived in the Capital Hill area of Seattle for a summer about 22 years ago with my then girlfriend, now wife, rotating through the Children's Hospital pathology department. I remember daily bike rides to Snoqualmie and very clearly remember thinking at the time that there could be no prettier place on this planet; Seattle summer cycling is magnificent.

SS said...

Art in a picture,
Put there for everyone to see
Dinky is not Dink.

(Copyright: Haiku on demand, - web file $500 per use)

Dink said...

"daily bike rides to Snoqualmie"

Wow! That's a legitimate distance and elevation!

It has been/is/will be over 90 degrees this week in the Puget Sound area. Humid, too. Vile. I grew up in San Diego, but seem to have lost the knack for coping with heat.

Capitol Hill (aka Pill Hill) is pretty swanky these days. There was a guy on the Daily Show a few years back that explained the phenomenom exactly: Gays move into a dilapidated neighborhood, renovate the buildings, open restaurants and galleries, then the rich buy them out. I've always lived in the suburban "Eastside" (i.e. east of Lake WA). No style points, but convenient and comfy.

($0, profane, blasphemous, haiku)

Its too damn hot to think straight

(Really, I apologize for the above)

SS said...

I shouldn't have posted On insecurity. You guys are freaking out. What is that about?


Thai said...

Dink, I thought you might find this interesting

Dink said...

I'm intrigued by your analysis. Please explain in what manner we are freaking out as I somehow missed it. It it ruthlessly hot here so I'm probably only 1/2 bright (at best).

Very interesting! Actually some of the links were better than the original article:

I'm trudging through Moral Minds slowly, but I find myself getting frustrated and wanting to yell at the author. He does present a lot of interesting studies which provide food for thought, but I question his conclusions about the studies. I'll write more about it once I finish the book which should be soon.

Oh, the Digust article above was interesting because of something from the book. The emotion first linked to observing an immoral act (i.e. cheating on a test) is disgust, not anger. Which is interesting.

Dink said...



Thai said...

The first paragraph of the second link is a classic synopsis of the more general law of information science that goes something like in order to make something useful, we make it wrong.

I keep trying to search for the name of this law as I long ago forgot it but I know it is as fundamental to information science as the conservation of energy is to science itself. When I eventually find the link for the law, I will pass it on.

SS said...

@ Dink

If not freaking out than what does the following mean?
($0, profane, blasphemous, haiku)

Its too damn hot to think straight

(Really, I apologize for the above)


Thai said...

SS, it appears a few Puritans have taken leadership roles in Russia's Communist Party. ;-)

... I kind of agree with Madonna on this one: Russian cuisine is terrible. If Russia has any great dishes beyond blintzes, borscht and some of their rye breads, so far I they have eluded me. In the marketplace of culinary competition, I suspect Russian cuisine may eventually meet the same fate as ancestral Scottish highland cooking and this would be a good thing.

Dink said...

"If not freaking out than what does the following mean?"

Agreed that the haiku was an episode of freaking out, but the cause was/is the ruthless heat. Yesterday was a record high for Seattle (103 degrees; the 28th and today are both nearly in the same range). But I'm not sure how it relates to On Insecurity posting. Peer pressure is not making me talk like a teamster; heat stress is.

"in order to make something useful, we make it wrong."

The first time you mentioned this phrase I interpreted it as "in order to manufacture something useful, manufacture it incorrectly". Which I didn't understand, but pride won over curiosity so I didn't ask for clarification. Now I interpret it as "in order to designate something as useful, designate it as immoral". Please, um, clarify :)

So the only way to break the advantage of cheating is cheater detection and punishment. Information provided by gossip forms reputations which enforces fairness which leads to cooperation which brings the group the advantages of organization. At least on the savannah in groups of 150 or less.

So really, accurate information and transmission is critical to cooperation. And given our innate predisposition to heuristics with abstract information (info beyond what we can directly see/hear/touch or scale to our "middle world") this bodes ill. Hmmm.

Thai said...

re: in order to manufacture something useful, manufacture it incorrectly or "in order to designate something as useful, designate it as immoral"

I guess both of these could be thought of a paraphrases of what I am saying, depending on your point of view though I tend to think a little closer to the first version than the second.

Perhaps this will clarify

Do you see where it says in your link:

" Our brains don't have enough memory to fit the precise physical description of a real door. Instead, we use representations,..."

The issue the author is discussing is basic to all information science: think of it as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle for information science if you will.

I have a hunch the issue has been understood by philosophers for centuries (again, I have not read much philosophy), but it has been clearly understood by scientists for the last 100 years as it is a very real issue with the advent of computer science and the drive for artificial intelligence.

For in order to truly know or understand anything (let's use the example of knowing an apple, or better still the example above of a door), our brains would literally need to store an infinite amount of information.

Obviously our brains can't store an infinite amount of information, so our brains use tricks instead to approximate that door- e.g. we use representations for everything, and I mean everything.

... Indeed, I this is the same conclusion I came to as I read "The stuff of thought". Linguists seem to be recognizing this same issue (though I can't say this for sure as I am very new to the area of linguistics) and it is probably why SS says Chomsky always says they are missing something ;-)

Our brain develops simple models, which it aggregates together to form more complex models, which in turn are further aggregated together to build still more complex models, etc...

The problem of course is that at every level of this fractal, they are still models and are still slightly inaccurate.

And a model that has a "flaw" at any level is still a flawed model.

But of course if our brain did not create all these models we would not be able to manipulate objects and do things and therefore nothing would get accomplished- e.g. we accept error in order to accomplish things. hence the law "in order to make something useful, we make it wrong".

It is the ultimate catch-22

The simplest way to think about this is with things like .zip file and compression algorithms. But the reality this idea applies to EVERYTHING (including morality and the idea of what is knowledge and "knowing" itself).

Thai said...

So think about what this fundamental law of information science implies with a system of justice/fairness and your example of cheater detection.

Remember Blackstone's principle:

"better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer"

You hear versions of it in the comments of Sudden Debt all the time.

We build models to determine when someone is cheating (in whatever) yet we know those models will occasionally be wrong.

Some see how the inaccuracy of the model makes the whole system corrupt.

From one point of view "you make to break some eggs if you want to make an omelet' (conservatives, who obviously see a degree of unfairness necessary to make things work)

From another point of view "people who make omelets should know better about being careful when they break eggs" (liberals, who see unfairness in a result)

Both points of view are SIMULTANEOUSLY correct

Yet accepting the absolute truth of one invalidates the truth of the other.

Thai said...

You always get to nihilism

SS said...

I did like the haiku though; not meant to be insulting, read it carefully and thought the picture "art." Plus I got the 5,7,5 syllable thing right, I think.

Where's Deb?


Thai said...

I really liked it too; you definitely have talent as a Haiku writer.

And I think she is still on one of those French vacations, the kind that are bankrupting their country as they last all summer ;-)

Dink said...

"Obviously our brains can't store an infinite amount of information, so our brains use tricks instead to approximate that door- e.g. we use representations for everything, and I mean everything."

Yes, cognition is flawed from the first step. I've seen engineering programs where an object's parameters (size, material) are input and then various stresses are placed on it to anticipate load ability. Its crude compared to reality in that not every single molecular bond is accounted for, but for most materials it works pretty well. Boeing is in a world of hurt because the 787 "Dreamliner" was engineered from scratch using state-of-the- art materials. They are way lighter, but the programs didn't take the greater complexity of the new materials into account. And the prototypes aren't behaving as predicted. So in summation, a perfect analogy for the mind and representation :)

From your Pinker book link I clicked on recommended book and then another from there (rabbit holes?) to come across a book titled "Kluge". I know enough programmers to know that a "kluge" is not something you're particularily proud of, but it does function. So for a neuro guy to refer to the mind as an evolutionary kluge amused me greatly.

Re: eggs and omelets,

Cheating/defecting provides short-term, minor benefit. Cooperating in a viable group provides long-term, MAJOR benefit. Using both strategies together provides maximum benefit to the individual, but at some point cheating destroys the group. But we don't know how to estimate the point. To play it safe, cooperate even while others cheat so you can benefit from the group. Nauseating, but I see the point (which I believe you've been trying to teach). Detecting and stomping on cheaters is fun and helps the group. But overstomping could also be damaging to the group if the members feel to terrified to experiment (evolve) lest they be mistaken for cheaters.

Capitalism provides a lot of benefit for cheating. Systemic flaw? Hmmm.

"I did like the haiku though; not meant to be insulting"

My apologies; again, the heat was making me dumb and surly. Thus prone to misinterpreting others as aggressive and lashing out :)

"the kind that are bankrupting their country"

She is TOTALLY going to lash out at you!

Thai said...

Yes, I was trying to get her to respond. It seems Bacchus is back in Olympus ;-)

re: "Cheating/defecting provides short-term, minor benefit. Cooperating in a viable group provides long-term, MAJOR benefit."

I used to think exactly this way: each of these different approaches were separate manifolds but the long term approach was superior to the short term one.

Now I am not so sure?

Today I tend to seem these as simply different strategies which are successful for different environments with neither being superior or inferior- they simply are what they are.

TO take an analogy from our economic eschatological blogosphere discussions, it might be seen as the difference between holding hard assets vs. holding cash in an inflationary vs. deflationary environment, and cash represents trust.

In an inflationary environment, where trust is plentiful, holding hard assets is a much better strategy but in an deflationary environment where trust is scarce, holding cash or trust itself becomes the more valuable strategy.

It is always one of those "both" or "it depends" answers I keep running into.

At least this is how I see it

Thai said...

Typo "Today I tend to seem these as simply different strategies"

should be

Today I tend to see these as...

SS said...


Went to post something but my posting acces has expired. Please renew, thanks. Is it still as hot there?


Debra said...

Bacchus is BACK !!!!
And since I am such a contradictory person, I am not going to stomp on Thai for his provocation...

I STILL do not understand your maxime about "in order to make something that is useful, we make it wrong".
I think that this is false, by the way. In other words, you are going to have to go into some detail, with arguments to boot, in order to make me swallow this one.

On the subject of representations : we have become a bunch of collective lazy louts.
Actually, if you are observant, and spend TIME observing what is out there (which I will not fall into the trap of calling reality...) you will notice just how INADEQUATE we have made our representations.
After all, think about those Eskimos with 300 differents "words" to qualify that experience that WE call snow...
Now, those are observant people. Not lazy, hurried louts like us.

And you guys are just OBSESSED with the idea of cheating, and how UNFAIR cheating is, and how necessary it is to PUNISH cheaters.
This attitude is part and parcel of a Protestant, entitlement society that wants to regulate EVERYTHING with the law AND contracts. Inevitably, everyone spends MUCHO time looking around to see if other people have MORE than they, and COMPLAINING at everything they see to be unfair.
Rather... petit bourgeois in my book.
I sometimes think that Marx did NOT adequately forsee the consequences that the petit bourgeois lifestyle would produce on human THINKING. On production, yes, but thinking, NO.

Thai said...

Re: "And you guys are just OBSESSED with the idea of cheating, and how UNFAIR cheating is, and how necessary it is to PUNISH cheaters"

No Deb, I think you are not following the conversation, at least not following it as we are following it.

In this instance, we are using the terms cheating and punishment as scientific terms of art and I think you are misunderstand this and ascribing additional meaning towards them (the more traditional definitions of what cheating and punishment mean).

Cheating and punishment are just part of the lingo used by game theorists to describe the various solutions to the prisoner's dilemma and its multi-player fractal the tragedy of the commons.

I think you are misunderstanding the thread (though I could be wrong of course)

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits