Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Neuroeconomic and Neurophysics

In the course of criticizing neuroeconomics, Arnold Kling briefly summarizes it as follows:

Some interpreters of neuroeconomics appear to argue that:

1. Individuals make decisions that are not "rational" by economic standards.

2. With new means to study the brain, we can show that these irrational decisions are correlated with greater usage of the emotional part of the brain.

3. Therefore, government paternalism is justified in steering people away from the decisions that are correlated with emotion and toward those decisions that are correlated with reason.

Since today's social sciences are about as firmly established as physics was in the day of Aristotle, maybe we can consider how Artistotle might have reacted to neuroscience studying people handling physical objects. If neurology existed back then and if it had been applied to people throwing objects, it would have found:
  1. Individuals throw objects in ways that are not “rational” by the standards of Aristotelian physics.

  2. With new means to study the brain, we can show that these irrational decisions are correlated with greater usage of the more primitive parts of the brain.

  3. Therefore, government paternalism is justified in steering people away from the decisions that are correlated with instinct and toward those decisions that are correlated with reason.

We can imagine a government program to train people to throw objects the “rational” way, in straight lines instead swinging arms in circles. (Slings, of course, would be banned.) They might prohibit people from cooling soup by blowing on it. (Air is the hot, wet element and, of course, could not cool off anything.)

In retrospect, the above suggestions can be seen to be nonsensical. It takes reason a long time to find the truth. Why should we believe that current neuroeconomics has done so?

Come to think of it, the example of physics might show that once reason has hit upon the right approach, regulations become unnecessary. In the past few centuries, human beings have been handling physical objects using machines designed by human reason. There was no regulation passed commanding that.

Instead of Indoctrination

On Protein Wisdom, Scott Eric Kaufman is defending academia against the charges of indoctrinating students and flunking qualified conservatives. There's more than one way for a professor to lean left. I suspect the most important way is simply to neglect to correct leftist misinformation.

Misinformation is frequently passed down from one generation of students to another. As a result, students learn that Christopher Columbus discovered the world is round, that astronauts are weightless because they're beyond the Earth's gravity, that marijuana smoke does not contain carbon monoxide, that religion is somehow opposed to rational thought, and that plutonium is the most toxic substance on Earth. All that is needed is for the professor to not bother correcting the currently-trendy parts of the misinformation.

In some cases, all that is needed is a delay in correcting the misinformation. Once an opinion has become sufficiently entrenched, any professor who tries correcting it will be regarded as having sold out to “The Establishment.”

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Outbreaks of Sanity

There have been signs of increasing environmental sanity in the liberal establishment. Parts of it now back nuclear power and DDT.

One implication is that environmentalism can no longer be dismissed out of hand. Some of the people involved are worth taking seriously. (That does not make them right.)

I'll keep an eye out for a defense of strip mining from the same people.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

No Comment

From a conspiracy-theory blog on the recent controversy on the Pope's speech:

Quoting someone and not expressing one's rejection of it is agreeing with it. The Pope is an intellectual and knows the proper way of attribution and quoting. For example, if I quote bin Laden or Jerry Falwell or GW Bush in my speech, and then not show my opinion of that quote, I announce my agreement

Monday, September 18, 2006

Hasn't This Happened Before?

According to World Net Daily, Al Qaeda is warning Muslims to leave the United States. This sounds familiar.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I Want That Job!

According to Boing Boing, some people are getting paid to write the stuff that I blog for free. How can I get on that payroll?

It's not merely the money. If I were paid to blog, I'm sure I'd be better known … even if only by leftists trying to pretend I've been bought.

MathML, Firefox, and Blogspot

The following sentence:

One half is 12.

can be viewed properly using Firefox at the Atom Feed, but not in the the usual blog.

According to a commenter on my other blog, there is a plug-in for IE that can be used to view MathML, but I would prefer to avoid software from an ally of Warren Buffett.

Disclaimer: By “ally of Warren Buffett,” I was referring to Microsoft.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Obvious Remedy to the Bizarre Voting Behavior of American Jews

According to both the American Jewish Identity Survey and David Bernstein's anecdotes, a substantial percentage of potentially-Jewish conservatives have converted to other religions. If they all returned to Judaism at once …

Do You Believe in Γ0?

Some of the classic atheist criticisms of religion for allegedly using circular reasoning could be used against impredicative mathematics. Since impredicative mathematics is needed to prove that Γ0 is well ordered

Speaking of religion

I have trouble reconciling 5 and 9 in the list of God's Top 10 Movie Messages to the World:

9. On His unwillingness to condemn: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."


5. On what we are doing to the planet: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore."

Could a refusal to condemn real sins lead to the abandonment of tradition? Could that, in turn, lead to a “God-shaped hole” that will be filled with some newfangled cult (e.g., deep ecology) instead of a religion old enough to be debugged?

On the other hand, people who are willing to change their minds for no good reason on the side of lacking belief might be expect to also change their minds for no good reason in the direction of too much belief.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Has This Been Replicated?

No, it's not embryonic stem cells this time.

Irina Ermakova, a scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences tried testing a common GMO, Roundup Ready soybeans, on pregnant rats and found they apparently damaged the rats offspring:

Ermakova’s first surprise came when her pregnant rats started giving birth. Some pups from GM-fed mothers were quite a bit smaller. After 2 weeks, 36% of them weighed less than 20 grams, compared to about 6% from the other groups (see photo).

But the real shock came when the rats started dying. Within three weeks, 25 of the 45 (55.6%) rats from the GM soy group died, compared to only 3 of 33 (9%) from the non-GM soy group and 3 of 44 (6.8%) from the non-soy controls.

I have a few questions:
  • Has this been replicated? Some of the embryonic stem-cell results were just made up.

  • Have there been any similar experiments?

  • Was this a matter of random variation? If scientists try testing something a few hundred times, some of the results will be apparently improbable.

  • Was this a matter of systematic error? Was the cage with the rats fed Roundup Ready soybeans cleaned properly?

  • What did the rats who weren't fed soybeans eat?

  • In the unlikely event there is something to this, could it be that Roundup Ready soybeans lack a vital nutrient? That would explain why they're deadly in an artificial environment but have not been associated with any birth-defect epidemic in the United States. The hypothetical nutrient might be common in other foods.

  • If there's nothing to this, will Project Censored acknowledge that?

While I was reading about the above, I noticed an alleged fact that is fascinating, if true:

… Even the DNA in the mother’s food may be a factor. German scientists found fragments of DNA fed to pregnant mice in the brains of their newborn[1].


[1] Doerfler W; Schubbert R, “Uptake of foreign DNA from the environment: the gastrointestinal tract and the placenta as portals of entry,” Journal of molecular genetics and genetics Vol 242: 495-504, 1994

This might be the start of a new version of the Nobel Prize sperm bank.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Communist Tactics vs. Pluto

The anti-Pluto forces at the recent International Astronomical Union meeting triumphed through Sitzfleisch, not debate:

The IAU gathering in Prague last week reversed its own experts' recommendation that would have allowed Pluto to keep its status, albeit in a different class of planet. Outraged protesters say the vote, at the end of the conference, was hijacked because most delegates had gone home and were not allowed to vote. Only about 428 of the IAU's 10,000 members cast a vote.

The same tactics were used by Communist front organizations in the 1940s. Today's Wall Street Journal carried an article about Olivia de Havilland and her description of such a front organization, the Independent Citizen's Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions:

… In executive meetings of the Citizen's Committee, Ms. de Havilland also took note that the group rarely embraced the kind of independent spirit it publicly proclaimed. It always ended up siding with the Soviet Union even though the rank-and-file members were noncommunist. “I thought, ‘If we reserve the right to criticize the American policies, why don't we reserve the right to criticize Russia?’” After scrutiny, Ms. de Havilland saw that this had become quite impossible.

As Ms. de Havilland returns to that time, her every word is deliberate, punctuated for maximum dramatic effect. “A motion that ordinarily would have no chance of being adopted by the entire membership would be introduced early in the meeting, and someone would filibuster so that the chairman would finally put the motion on the table,” she remembers. “Somebody else would then filibuster about another issue. And I thought, “Why is this?” The most intelligent men would get up and talk absolute drivel for 15 minutes. Most people got fatigued and would leave. And by 11 o'clock, there would be only about six people left—a nucleus—and me. And suddenly, the controversial motion was taken off the table, voted on, and passed.”

“I realized a nucleus of people was controlling the organization without a majority of members of the board being aware of it. And I knew they had to be communists.”

The same strategy was used in the same era in less glamorous contexts. According to my father, there was an attempted Communist takeover of the Chemistry Club at Queens College in the 1940s. Their tactic was to extend meeetings until everybody else got bored and went home and they could vote for their agenda. (This was stopped by putting a time limit on meetings.)

Calvin Trillin mentioned the same tactics in the essay “The New New Right” in his collection Uncivil Liberties:

It was known by then why Communists in the thirties had found it easy to outlast everyone until they became a majority in any meeting they wanted to take over: no one else could bear to sit through their speeches.

Of course, everybody knows the Communists are opposed to Plutocrats.

A Good Side of Islam

If you convert to Islam, you can be sure of getting decent clothing in a hospital.

Monday, September 04, 2006

One Reason Today's Muslims Are Acting Nuts

On an earlier occasion, I theorized that today's Muslims are trying to imitate Jews … but they're imitating Jews as described by loonies. In addition, they might be imitating the way real Jews have acted 1900 years ago back when real Jews were loonies. (This was also covered in the movie Life of Brian. It might not look serious, but it was remarkably accurate.) I don't know if this is deliberate, but if it is, the Muslims should note that the Jews lost the resulting wars.

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