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    nmw 13:58:37 on 2016/06/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Gustav Le Bon, impression, impressionability, impressions, influence, Law of large numbers, , , , , , , , , repitition, science, , , , ,   

    The Rationality of Large Numbers 

    This is a huge topic – I will not be able to cover it in a single post, not even in just a few posts. What I want to do here and now is to introduce the topic, and to describe why I feel it is so immensely important.

    First: What do I mean by „large numbers“. Oddly, I am not even exactly sure myself. I think I mean at least two things. Most directly and obviously, I mean the statistical and research methodology that is a cornerstone of the scientific method which has been used with such resounding success for hundreds of years already. Basically, this has to do with large populations (whether of people, of atoms or of other things), and how there seem to be quite predictable relationships between characteristics of populations and characteristics of individual members of such populations. Although I do not mean to diminish the importance of the insights gained from such statistical analysis, one point that often seems to get overlooked is that it is nonetheless a belief system – much like a religion, we believe that atoms (and similar properties of phenomena we refer to collectively as „the hard sciences“) behave in accordance to such laws (as „the law of large numbers“) throughout the universe. Nonetheless, to call the entire scientific method into question because of this one intriguing point would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Let me turn to a much more disconcerting issue with respect to the notion of large numbers. In the scientific approach, it seems quite clear that the aim is to be able to make predictions about populations which basically result from the way a large number of individual members of these populations function. There is, however, also a much more controversial matter – namely, that large populations may also have an impact on individual members. Although this may not be obvious when talking about atoms or similar „inanimate“ phenomena, one would be quite hard pressed to maintain that one single bird is not influenced by actions of the flock, or that one single human is not affected by actions of a mob of people which he or she is a member of.

    Beyond that, over the past century or so it has become blatantly obvious that individuals are not only influenced by actual mobs, but that are even prone to change their behavior on the basis of merely a percieved influence of mobs. The groundbreaking insights of Gustav Lebon at the close of the 19th Century were used with amazing „success“ throughout the 20th Century, and they are still being used today. In many – no: in the vast majority of – countries today, the vast majority of the population believe that the „top result“ for any search using google.com are validated by the vast majority of the population worldwide. Similarly, advertisements shown on facebook.com or on the screens of smartphones are assumed to be backed „by the numbers“.

    In this sense, one can quite reasonably argue that „belief in Google“, „belief in Facebook“, etc. are on par with belief in other religious organizations and/or belief in some kind of infallible oracle.

    At the same time (over the past century or so), there have been significant advances in the scientific approaches used to measure and improve the effectivity of propaganda and manipulation. Today advertising has become something akin to the gold standard of validation with respect to new ideas, innovation and anything modern, successful and/or technologically advanced. I remember seeing billboards advertising apple products nearly everywhere about 10 years ago, and such overwheming repitition was a nearly everpresent and constant reminder that apple was „where it’s at“, plain and simple because apple was everywhere. Today, „everywhere“ has also even eradicated the traditional distinction between „editorial“ and „advertising“ once used in „traditional“ publishing. Today, the „newsfeed“ is populated with many advertisements and product placements, and the vast majority of news consumers view this as a sign of success.

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    nmw 11:56:34 on 2016/04/28 Permalink
    Tags: assert, assertion, assertions, assertive, , , believe, believing, communicate, communicating, , , communicative, dumb, , evident, , , , , , , , , , methodology, , , , outspoken, , , science, , , speak, speak out, , , , , , , , , , ,   


    If you believe something to be true, but do not assert your belief, then you are probably dumb. 😉


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    nmw 16:17:23 on 2016/02/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , science, , , ,   

    In Our Brains… 

    In our brains, almost everything is connected to the world outside of our brains. Thinking about artificial intelligence (AI), my friends Ted and Brandon are asking for help (@http://concerning.ai). In my humble opinion: If you want to „get somewhere“ then you need to think „outside of the box“.

    What I’m writing here has mainly to do with things Brandon and Ted talk about in episode 10. Also, in episodes 11 and 12, Brandon and Ted talk with Evan Prodromou, a „practitioner“ in the field. Evan points out (at least) two fascinating points: 1. Procedural code and 2. Training sets. Below, I will also talk about these two issues.

    When I said above that there is a need to „think out side of the box“, I was alluding to much larger systems than what is usually considered (note that Evan, Ted and Brandon also touched on a notion of „open systems“). For example: Language. So-called „natural language“ is extremely complex. To present just a shimmer of the enormous complexity of natural language, consider the „threshold anecdote“ Ted shared at the beginning of episode 11. A threshold is both a very concrete thing and also an abstract concept. When people use the term „threshold“, other people can only understand the meaning of the term by at the same time also considering the context in which the term is being used. This is for all practical purposes an intractable problem for any computational device which might be constructed by humans sometime in the coming century. Language itself does not exist in one person or one book, but it is something which is distributed among a large number of people belonging to the same linguistic community. The data is qualitative rather than qantitative. Only the most fantastically optimistic researchers would ever venture to try to „solve“ language computationally – and I myself was also once one such researcher. I doubt humans will ever be able to build such a machine… not only due to the vast resources it might require, but also because the nature of (human) natural language is orthogonal to the approach of „being solvable“ via procedural code.

    Another anecdote I have often used to draw attention to how ridiculous the aim to „solve language“ seems is Kurzweil’s emphasis on pattern recognition. Patterns can only be recognized if they have been previously defined. Keeping with another example from episode 11, it would require humans to walk from tree to tree and say „this is an ash tree“ and „that is not an ash tree“ over and over until the computational device were able to recognize some kind of pattern. However, the pattern recognized might be something like „any tree located at a listing of locations where ash trees grow“. Indeed: The hope that increasing computational resources might make pattern recognition easier underscores the notion that such „brute force“ procedures might be applied. Yet the machine would nonetheless not actually understand the term „ash tree“. A computer can recognize what an ash tree is IFF (if and only if) a human first defines the term. If a human must first define the term, then there is in fact no „artificial intelligence“ happening at all.

    I have a hunch that human intelligence has evolved according to entirely different laws – „laws of nature“ rather than „laws of computer science“ (and/or „mathematical logic“). Part of my thinking here is quite similar to what Tim Ferris has referred to as „not-to-do lists“ (see „The 9 Habits to Stop Now“). Similarly, it is well-known that Socrates referred to „divine signs“ which prevented him from taking one or another course of action. You might also consider (from the field of psychology) Kurt Lewin’s „Field Theory“ (in particular the “Force Field Analysis” of positive / negative forces) in this context, and/or (from the field of economics) the „random walk“ hypothesis. The basic idea is as follows: Our brains have evolved with a view towards being able to manage (or „deal with“) situations we have never experienced before. Hence „training sets“ are out of the question. We are required to make at best „educated“ guesses about what we should do in any moment. Language is a tool-set which has symbiotically evolved in our environment (much like the air we breathe is also conducive to our own survival). Moreover: Both we and our language (as also other aspects of our environment) continue to evolve. Taken to the ultimate extreme, this means that the coexistence of all things evolving in concert shapes the intelligence of each and every sub-system within the universe. To put it rather plainly: the evolution of birds and bees enables us to refer to them as birds and bees; the formation of rocks and stars enables us to refer to them as rocks and stars; and so on.

    In case you find all of this somewhat scientific theory too theoretical, please feel free to check out one of my recently launched projects – in particular the „How to Fail“ page … over at bestopopular.com (which also utilizes the „negative thinking“ approach described above).

  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 17:51:27 on 2016/02/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , confidence, depressed, depression, doubt, doubting, , , , , Galileo, , group dynamics, , , , , , , , , questioning, , , sad, science, , , , social cohesion, social group, social groups, , , , , , , , ,   

    Do You Want To Be Right Or Do You Want To Be Happy? 

    Did anyone ever ask Galileo this question? Why or why not? Why do some people ask other people this question today?

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