Squeezing Through

This article isn’t for the bored. And if you feel terribly positive right now – you probably won’t after you’re done. There. Now that that’s done…

It feels so good to make overarching statements about life and the universe – makes you feel powerful and all-knowing, when you so obviously aren’t. This isn’t an article like that. This one’s , for once , very simple. I just want to talk.

I’m not sure what’s bothering me really – the lack of belief that plagues everything I do or the idea that I haven’t found my passion in life yet. Though I actually think I have. I tend to like reading about psychology, I enjoy studying it, I enjoy understanding it’s effects and results and conclusions. That must mean something right? It should hopefully mean that that’s what I should do the rest of my life – I plan to anyway. But if it’s destined to not get anywhere why bother? Such absolute pessimism dogs many of my thoughts and decisions and remains firmly out of my control.

Imagine being able to control your emotions – an iron fist around the tiny bean sized amygdala in the brain – do YOU think you’d be a better person? Or would it turn you into an automaton? Would a lack of feelings fundamentally make us zombies? Without actually considering the definition of zombies. It’s an interesting thought – like the notion of what not feeling pain would turn us into. Are we good as humans(pick whatever definition of being human that you will – I don’t care)? Do we deserve to exist in the first place? What right do I have to ask that question anyway? I can’t represent even a minor percentage of the population. But society makes me want to try.

I wonder if being completely solitary would’ve affected me in some drastic way – would I have named coconuts so that I have friends(Cast Away – pretty good movie in retrospect)? I wouldn’t know what friends are so why bother trying to have them? I wouldn’t know the very existence of society or the norms or anything else that I am forced to comply with now. It sounds like a very carefree existence – one that would be filled with eternal doubt over my continued presence on the world and what purpose it serves.

Recently I saw a documentary that commented on how we can use our ability to classify things to do great harm to each other. As we learn more about our own minds would you say that the possibility of mind control only increases? Would it be bad if it was invented? How much worse off would you be? The mind control might even make you a hell of a lot happier than you are now. My life would be bliss I’m sure. The people in control couldn’t possibly have any other plans for me. And after I die I wouldn’t care if I was going to heaven or hell , I wouldn’t even care that I was going to die. When we’re so sure we’re going to die anyway why spend so much time worrying  about it? It should just serve as motivation to get on with life – to actually do something rather than just laze around and mooch off someone. I feel great motivation when I think of the idea that I could prove the non-existence of God for sure. I actually treasure the thought that people would try to lynch me for it. It’d be so satisfying to know that I’d fundamentally altered the societal fabric – I’d’ve ripped and torn it apart with that actually.

(Edit: I watched Life of Pi and realised that God deserves to exist even if I don’t believe in Him, so that path for tearing apart the social fabric doesn’t exist anymore.)

When I get up every morning I always feel like having tea. Nothing else. Like, if I know that I’ll get some tea in the morning it gives me inspiration to wake up – something about the semi-sweet generally brown liquid tempts me greatly. And I love satiating that temptation. Addictions must feel like that. Like you’d be happy to do something if you could get your next dose or shot or whatever other weird metaphor is applied to pushing chemicals into your body to mess with what millions of years of evolution has nearly perfected.

You have a memory which is less that one-fourth the size of your hard disk and it can store terabytes and terabytes(petabytes?) of information. Not just that. It can also get you the information really really quickly and see the transitions from one state to the other – like some sort of graph where you know the transitive closure. I hate talking like I know about all this – like I can try to educate you about it when in reality my understanding is as superficial as it can be. I just have the desire to scoop up that top layer of water and throw it in your face.
I’ve always wanted to write something as rambling as this was. This is how I think – how my mind transitions from one things to another so rapidly that my concentration dwindles within a second. I don’t exactly know why that is, but my doctor – this guy who lives on the web diagnosed it as some form of ADD and I was surprised and satisfied to belong to some category. In retrospect I still don’t get why there’s such a desperate need to belong. Back to the point on solidarity – I’m sure I wouldn’t have cared about ADD had I lived that life.

Well I was definitely hoping to reach 1000 words with this article but this is as close as I’m getting I think so I’ll finish this off by saying that learning new languages makes people smarter. I was thinking about it last night thanks to a friend and I like how we believe that and the belief of it tends to add to the already documented effect. A self-serving bias, albeit a positive one for once.

I hope I made you think.

Why does it take so long for intellectual understanding to translate into political action?

For all time, a common trend has been for the intelligentsia to understand or discover something and then, for the realisation to take years and sometimes even decades to fall into effect. Why are people so fearful of change? Why are we so short on trust? Why are the people in command so uninformed?
When I think about it, all I can come up with is that it’s never really mattered to them(plebian or otherwise) that these realisations have been dawned upon. Which is obviously a sad state to be in. My first thought when I realised this was how do we change the sytem? There must be a way to catalyse the process, some mechanism to grease the wheels of the machine. Why? Because it’s worth it. Doesn’t it feel good to realise that progress is happening? That something is becoming better?
All these questions originate from my own understanding of why we want progress or what should be done.Except I’m mising something.
This ideology of using current discoveries to immediate effect must’ve resonated with something in you, at least a little, but the thing is, it’s all hindsight bias. There are always numerous opinions, numerous “realisations” but we have to try them out to see what works, which is actually what in real life happens and then history highlights what actually works. Prescience of some event or act is actually one person managing to see what a 100 couldn’t – mainly cause they eliminated the other options for that one guy.
For example many people felt in retrospect that the economic collapse could’ve been predicted, or the World War or that the Y2K problem was nothing to worry about or that slavery should be abolished – but until the actual answer bubbled to the top and made us realise it was right- we didn’t know.
So what’s my conclusion? (do tell me yours)
It’s a tad depressing but basically this is the only way forward, progress is always 3 or 4 steps back then maybe 10 ahead. It’s the way it works and I can live with it until we have something with enough artificial intelligence to simulate those 3 or 4 steps. I wonder what it would take.

Paramedics

Paramedics are taught that they should regulate emotions when they are in a position of trememdous stress – to ensure that they work at their optimum cognitive level. In effect whenever there is a situation where they have to take care of a patient in a critical condition they seem to become a tad inhuman – even towards the family members and well-wishers. They can’t help it. Their entire focus is on ensuring that the patient survives and any emotion from the family member could only serve as a distraction – something they could definitely do without. 

An oftly cited example of the mind’s power over someone’s health is how we respond to the placebo effect. We just BELIEVE that we can be healed and when we believe strongly enough we somehow end up healing. For example: the times when hypnosis cured a supposedly incurable disease. These cases may be the “black swans” of their fields – the extremes of the Gaussian curve – the very improbable occurrences. However I argue in their favour. I believe that hope is quintessentially the best feeling in the world. And I do believe that the mind can do wonders that the body itself thinks itself incapable of. The “how” is at present left for MRI scans of the future. We have seen it before and by experience we can believe that it can happen again. So why not encourage it? While I feel like this is some bogus medication I want to see it’s effects. I sincerely believe that the realisation for the patient that there is someone who desperately wants them to live could tip the scales in their favour in the battle between life or death. 

I’d say a study should be undertaken on the probability distribution of the same. I’m extremely curious to know the positive effects of oxytocin – called the “love drug” for how it’s released whenever we experience “love”. However it can easily be argued that the factors in such a situation are numerous – we have definitional challenges on all fronts – what is a well-wisher? what is recovery? what is a “critical condition”? I’ve not clearly demarcated ranges for any of them in something that is terribly subjective. However if and when I get a chance to check this out I’ll make sure I do that.

In reality I have no idea how paramedics truly work and a recent article I read told me how utterly misled I might be by my apprent efforts to help out these people. There are many cases into which each call that a paramedic gets are bifurcated and many of those calls are the worst kind. The ones where they go to console the family and wheel the body to the morgue. The few others where the victim is still alive, the victim is so far beyond consciousness that they’re in the netherworld between life and death. There’s no reason to believe that the presence of anyone but these paramedics is of any use to them. But i’m the hopeful kind. I do still believe that there might be some cases where the presence of someone supporting you is what holds you together, I just have to find out where. Till then all I have is a tremendous respect for paramedics and a thank you to these people who have the capability to stomach such a job because saving lives is the most noble thing you could ever do.

For more information on their lives read: http://www.esquire.com/print-this/paramedic-training-0809?page=all 

I think therefore I am

Of late most of the Studies in behavioral economics seem to stress that thinking isn’t all that useful, that its something we’re sort of handicapped in or at least aren’t as awesome at as we’d like to believe. In reality though,  however irrational we are, we are a species that has learnt to do something truly amazing(yes – I mean to think), and for that reason we should never belittle it; we should practice it to the best of our ability and rather than looking at our fallacies as fallacies per se, we should see them as what uniquely make us, us.
Of course in order to really appreciate why this is important, it’s useful to have a slight handle on the literature that exists on the topic. There are the light reading type of books like (pop-economics perhaps?)Nudge, Freakonomics, Predictability of irrationality give us a hint, albeit very superficially, of the current ideas that are being tossed around and confirmed on some level. Some concepts they propagate are on how we are easily fooled by our own cognition and that we have a tendency to not realise that we’re getting more than we bargained for. There are more rigorous books such as Thinking fast and slow by the man who is considered the father of this science – Daniel Kahneman(and his comrade in many of his important studies – Amos Tversky).
In my eyes, inexperienced as they may be, all that we should really draw from these texts is that knowing them is an useful way to try to avoid falling prey to it. However considering the number of heuristics that we have evolved over time it’s nearly impossible to try to keep track of it all, unless you create an app for it!  And that is the crux of the problem really, in order to survive we have evolved loads of rules of thumb, like ‘ expensive is good quality’, ‘a good looking person is more likeable’, I pay more for my coffee at starbucks so that I can get the good stuff though what I don’t know is that what I’m paying a dollar extra for only costs a few cents more in reality(you pay more because you want to).
I feel like the existence of so many heuristics gives some credence to Lamarcks theory that we can pass on the actions that alter our mental state to our kids because the number of heuristics that exist now is far far greater than when there were when you needed to use a telegraph to transfer a message across the Atlantic, now you just need a lot of money in ur prepaid account! I suppose, in essence, that is the point of education.
We manage to somehow live life peacefully even in the presence of so much information thanks to the way we process it. And the very idea that we are capable of something so phenomenal is wonderful. That is what we should marvel at. However it’d take a lot of mental tinkering to manage it appropriately and thoroughly considering that this is just another heuristic(it’s rather recursive you see) that allowed us to focus on the things that could harm us.
Here’s to a better intelligence – cheers!

9 Lives

Cats have a one in nine chance of dying-all im doing is restating the oft stated fact of ‘ cats have nine lives’ in more realistic terms.
Now the why?
It can be said that all life is based on probability. Thats true isn’t it? It’s our chances and circumstances that make us who we are. Comparing how strong the chances are that one event occurs compared to another is just the study of probability.
Yesterday I played 200 games of the beginner level of Minesweeper to get a time of 12 seconds or less. Why 200? Because it was just a matter of probability that I get an easy one in which I needn’t find all the mines to finish. I managed 13 seconds in the end. This lack of an option to redo events is what makes it so important to get lucky in life, cause if you get the chance to replay a chess game umpteen times you’ll eventually checkmate your opponent.
This makes me feel sad, because it absolutely proves that each of us is at the mercy of forces we cannot control. Now rather than fall back on the weak argument of using religion as a safeguard, I’ll suggest that however screwed up your circumstances get, there’s always the Gaussian curve to remind you that it’ll eventually stop simply because the probability of 100 bad things happening is just too low, yup, the glass is half full strategy.
Just one thing, when that good probability strikes, exploit it like the world is gonna end if you don’t.

Mobile Banking in Kenya—> HUGE!

Gigaom

MIT researcher Nathan Eagle regaled the audience at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference yesterday with tales of technical innovation from East Africa. “Kenya has some mobile phone services that are years ahead of what we have right now,” he said. Eagle was at ETech to present his new startup, Txteagle, which aims to be a kind of mobile Mechanical Turk, using countless mobile phone users in Kenya and beyond to solve easy tasks and earn small amounts of money in return. (There’s a good writeup in Wired News today)

It’s definitely an interesting idea. But to me, the real story is how mobile phones have transformed a country like Kenya in recent years, making not only services like Txteagle possible, but also shaking up the region’s entire economic system.

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