|Amaryllis dawn ...|
|If only it walked .. and stung ..|
|Dr Matt Taylor (Rosetta, Philae) with tee-shirt and interviewer|
"Karl Marx took up fencing again in London after his exile but characteristically "split" with his fencing master over political differences."I feel quite attracted to deadly pursuits; in fact my home town has an archery club (just under a year's waiting list inspired, no doubt, by The Hunger Games) but there's something so much more attractive about cold steel, don't you think?
|Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) with his Bombe|
Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) was a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, pioneering computer scientist, mathematical biologist, and marathon and ultra distance runner. He was highly influential in the development of computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of "algorithm" and "computation" with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.
During World War II, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, Britain's codebreaking centre. For a time he led Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including improvements to the pre-war Polish bombe method, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine. Winston Churchill said that Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany. Turing's pivotal role in cracking intercepted coded messages enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in several crucial battles. It has been estimated that Turing's work shortened the war in Europe by as many as two to four years.
After the war, he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he designed the ACE, among the first designs for a stored-program computer. In 1948 Turing joined Max Newman's Computing Laboratory at Manchester University, where he assisted development of the Manchester computers and became interested in mathematical biology. He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis, and predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, first observed in the 1960s.
Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts, when such behaviour was still criminalised in the UK. He accepted treatment with oestrogen injections (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison. Turing died in 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined his death a suicide; his mother and some others believed it was accidental. In 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for "the appalling way he was treated." The Queen granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013.
"Imrie’s particular wish to uncover an ancestor to inspire her politically inclined son, Angus, unearthed a corker in her “eight-times grandfather” William, Lord Russell, son of the Earl of Bedford in the time of King Charles II. A leading Whig politician who truly had the courage of his convictions, Russell was such an intransigent defender of Protestantism and lover of constitutional liberty that he was accused of plotting to kill the King, and promptly beheaded.So she had found her 'good genes' then? Not so fast, here's Richard Dawkins:
"At Woburn Abbey, the Russell family seat, Imrie set out on the still more dramatic trail of Frances Howard, grandmother of the aforementioned William. A victim of one appalling dynastic marriage, and caught up in vicious courtly intrigues while trying to secure happiness in a second, she was packed off to the Tower of London with her new husband, accused of murder. Frances was eventually pardoned but history was not so forgiving."
"For relationships as distant as third cousin, 2 x (1/2)8 = 1/128, we are getting down near the baseline probability that a particular gene possessed by [an individual] will be shared by any random individual taken from the population."Celia Imre's “eight-times grandfather” William, Lord Russell, is nine generations separate from her and shares a relatedness of 1/512 = (2-9). That distant relatedness could be greater if her lineage includes a degree of inbreeding - but it's unlikely to be more than 1/128 - Dawkins' rough figure for the genetic relationships of any two random ethnic English people.
|Villingen in the winter of 1979/80|
'What is a self, and how can a self come out of inaminate matter?' This is the riddle that drove Hofstadter to write this extraordinary book. Linking together the music of J.S. Bach, the graphic art of Escher and the mathematical theorems of Gödel, as well as ideas drawn from logic, biology, psychology, physics and linguistics, Douglas Hofstadter illuminates one of the greatest mysteries of modern science: the nature of human thought processes.The book is astonishingly profound and well-written - if overlong - and is on the syllabus of many university computer science courses. Strangely, what I particularly remember relates to the title of this post.
'Politicians lie'(little has changed over the years), and
'cast iron sinks'.But would we want to conclude that:
'Politicians lie in cast iron sinks'?Cue big smiles, but you see what he did there? Changed a verb into a noun? There's playfulness, there's trickery and there's outright cheating!
|Timothy Spall as Mr Turner|
"When he received the manuscript of The Origin of Species, John Murray, the publisher, sent it to a referee who suggested that Darwin should jettison all that evolution stuff and concentrate on pigeons. It’s funny in the same way as the spoof review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which praised its interesting “passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways of controlling vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper” but added:The key conceptual idea that it is genes which are selected in natural selection is spelled out by Dawkins thus:
“Unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savour these sidelights on the management of a Midland shooting estate, and in this reviewer’s opinion this book can not take the place of JR Miller’s Practical Gamekeeping.”
"I am not being funny when I say of Edward Wilson’s latest book that there are interesting and informative chapters on human evolution, and on the ways of social insects (which he knows better than any man alive), and it was a good idea to write a book comparing these two pinnacles of social evolution, but unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of erroneous and downright perverse misunderstandings of evolutionary theory. In particular, Wilson now rejects “kin selection” (I shall explain this below) and replaces it with a revival of “group selection”—the poorly defined and incoherent view that evolution is driven by the differential survival of whole groups of organisms."
"At stake is the level at which Darwinian selection acts: “survival of the fittest” but, to quote Wilson’s fellow entomologist-turned-anthropologist RD Alexander, the fittest what? The fittest gene, individual, group, species, ecosystem?I doubt that Wilson doesn't intellectually understand this argument, or even the not-very-hard mathematics of Hamilton's notion of inclusive fitness. Wilson is, I suspect, simply indifferent to analytical, mathematical argumentation which he probably dismisses as simplistic model-building. No, group selection just feels emotionally right, and congruent to his optimistic, liberal outlook on life.
"Just as a child may enjoy addressing an envelope: Oxford, England, Europe, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, Local Group, Universe, so biologists with non-analytical minds warm to multi-level selection: a bland, unfocussed ecumenicalism of the sort promoted by (the association may not delight Wilson) the late Stephen Jay Gould. Let a thousand flowers bloom and let Darwinian selection choose among all levels in the hierarchy of life. But it doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny. Darwinian selection is a very particular process, which demands rigorous understanding.
The essential point to grasp is that the gene doesn't belong in the hierarchy I listed. It is on its own as a “replicator,” with its own unique status as a unit of Darwinian selection. Genes, but no other units in life’s hierarchy, make exact copies of themselves in a pool of such copies. It therefore makes a long-term difference which genes are good at surviving and which ones bad. You cannot say the same of individual organisms (they die after passing on their genes and never make copies of themselves). Nor does it apply to groups or species or ecosystems. None make copies of themselves. None are replicators. Genes have that unique status.
"Evolution, then, results from the differential survival of genes in gene pools. “Good” genes become numerous at the expense of “bad.” But what is a gene “good” at? Here’s where the organism enters the stage. Genes flourish or fail in gene pools, but they don’t float freely in the pool like molecules of water. They are locked up in the bodies of individual organisms. The pool is stirred by the process of sexual reproduction, which changes a gene’s partners in every generation. A gene’s success depends on the survival and reproduction of the bodies in which it sits, and which it influences via “phenotypic” effects. This is why I have called the organism a “survival machine” or “vehicle” for the genes that ride inside it. "
"Nepotistic altruism in humans consists of feelings of warmth, solidarity, and tolerance toward those who are likely to be one's kin. It evolved because any genes that encouraged such feelings toward genetic relatives would be benefiting copies of themselves inside those relatives. (This does not, contrary to a common understanding, mean that people love their relatives because of an unconscious desire to perpetuate their genes.) A vast amount of human altruism can be explained in this way. Compared to the way people treat non-relatives, they are far more likely to feed their relatives, nurture them, do them favors, live near them, take risks to protect them, avoid hurting them, back away from fights with them, donate organs to them, and leave them inheritances.Read the whole rather wonderful piece here.
"The cognitive twist is that the recognition of kin among humans depends on environmental cues that other humans can manipulate.Thus people are also altruistic toward their adoptive relatives, and toward a variety of fictive kin such as brothers in arms, fraternities and sororities, occupational and religious brotherhoods, crime families, fatherlands, and mother countries. These faux-families may be created by metaphors, simulacra of family experiences, myths of common descent or common flesh, and other illusions of kinship. None of this wasteful ritualizing and mythologizing would be necessary if "the group" were an elementary cognitive intuition which triggered instinctive loyalty. Instead that loyalty is instinctively triggered by those with whom we are likely to share genes, and extended to others through various manipulations."
"Starting with a series of snapshots of a world thirty years or so hence, Brin creates a picture where most of today's great threats have occurred and have been, if not overcome, then at least lived through. The seas have risen, nuclear terrorism has been perpetrated and the Yellowstone supervolcano has burped. It's a tomorrow where social and technological change have reshaped the world, and where a new social order is trying to put the brakes on progress, to end the Enlightenment. Beneath the optimism, though, there's danger. The world seems doomed to stagnation, unable to respond to any of a growing list of existential threats.In every fibre of his liberal being, David Brin believes that people are fundamentally friendly and nice, uplifted dolphins are friendly and nice (if a bit boisterous), aliens can be tricksy and disingenuous but Brin writes indulgently of them .. and the heartfelt message of his novel is that the universe awaits those who venture out in the spirit of friendliness and niceness.
"But then an astronaut on the last space station, clearing space garbage, finds something strange — something not of this earth. And that means everything is about to change, once again.
"Brin draws on themes he's written about and discussed over much of the last decade, exploring a society shaped by ubiquitous surveillance (and equally ubiquitous sousveillance), where governments and ad hoc social media groups can use the same tools to draw their own conclusions and solve their own problems. It's the scenario he shaped in The Transparent Society, where little brother is the antidote to Big Brother (and that he elaborated on in a conversation with ZDNet earlier this year). But in Existence Brin also shows the downside of radical transparency, exploring how demagogues and propagandists can manipulate transparency to their own ends, using targeted disinformation.
"The picture Brin draws is one of a densely networked world that's easy for us to recognise. Ubiquitous augmented reality layers information on everything we see and do, and a networked society pulls together in clusters, joining together in smart mobs to interpret information and solve problems. The rich and the poor share access to an ocean of information, and understanding is the key to everything. It's also a world where machine learning and artificial intelligence have become everyday tools, and there's an uploaded rat living in the interstices of the internet.
"Of course, as in much of Brin's fiction, there's more. It's a story that travels the world, observing it through the eyes of a crusading journalist, a polemical novelist, an ageing astronaut, an aristocrat (or two) and a peasant shoresteading the ruins under a rising ocean. And as we leave the cradle there's also an answer to the Fermi Paradox, plus a tip of the hat to his popular Uplift novels."
“Most science fiction of the day predicted a future that was more civilized and more intelligent. But as time went on things seemed to be heading in the opposite direction. The years passed and mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes that genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution. But sadly, the greatest minds and resources were focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections.”'Idiocracy' portrayed a society where the left-hand side of the bell curve (those with IQ less than 100, lack of conscientiousness, lack of impulse control, .etc, etc) had reproduced uncontrollably while those folk with the smarts hadn't bothered. In the quantitative genetics literature, this would be called truncation selection, in this case breeding for stupidity.
I use LinkedIn sparingly, though I have found it beneficial on occasion. But one of its features is that its software is constantly asking you if you want to make LinkedIn-contact with people whom it thinks you might know. That’s understandable; LinkedIn has to make money, and information and contacts are money for them.I guess like most people on LinkedIn, I've also almost been a victim of this scam. My email-contacts list has more than a thousand entries, based on years of working in high-tech companies and as a technology consultant. I read about Prof. Strassler's disaster and thought, 'There but for the grace of God' ...
But there’s one LinkedIn request that you have to be careful with, in which they ask for permission to import your contacts lists and send LinkedIn invitations to make contact with every single person on that list.
I don’t have to explain to you why this would typically be undesirable… it’s obvious. Just think of one person you’d rather not talk to, or who’d rather not hear from you, who might be down in a forgotten corner of your list of contacts.
In the old days, if you were to plan something so drastic as contacting hundreds of unrelated people on a single day about joining your professional network, you’d be discussing it on the phone or at a desk with a company representative, having a conversation. And you’d probably have to sign a piece of paper. Moreover, you’d have at least a few minutes, if not days, to consider what you’d done and change your mind.
In the modern age ... clicking is enough. But everyone knows that it is easy to misread something and click on it, or do something through accidental clicking of a touch-pad, a slip of a mouse, or a bump of a touchscreen. I don’t know which of these happened to me yesterday. In any case, in order to take an action as outlandish and irrevocable as sending blanket faux-personalized email invitations to everyone I have ever known, it is essential for a company to have a warning pop-up: “This action will send email invitations to 452 individuals. Are you sure you want to do this?” The default should be “No“, and you have to click on “Yes” for the action to go ahead.
But for LinkedIn, as I discovered yesterday, a single click is apparently all it takes, with no warning screen. In my opinion, this is somewhere between unethical, negligent, and sneaky.
Actually let’s just call it evil.
"Steve Hsu has found a very interesting table with the average GRE scores computed for various concentrations. He has also defined a linear map translating the average V-Q-A scores into a more familiar IQ scale. This convention looks natural to me and I will follow his scale although it is not guaranteed that it is equally calibrated as other IQ measurements.Since these are graduate entry levels, they're creaming off the top end of undergraduates. So it's kind of an 'undergraduate good 2:1' floor we're seeing here. Oh, and scary & surprising about US doctors, don't you think? In the UK, the average IQ of medical students is reckoned to be 125 (page 61).
"Disclaimer: these cold numbers expressing typical IQ for different occupations must be interpreted very carefully. They don't necessarily imply anything. The outcome depends on the character of the question, discrimination, etc. Despite different numbers, all of us are equal. Blah blah blah. And so on.
"The results are: [A PhD student's typical IQ for this subject]
128.5 Computer Science
127.5 Chemical engineering
127.0 Material science
126.0 Electrical engineering
125.5 Mechanical engineering
123.0 Earth sciences
122.0 Industrial engineering
122.0 Civil engineering
119.8 Political science
118.0 Art history
106.0 Public administration"
"I doubt that the average among eminent scientists (averaging over all fields) is 160; probably a bit lower like 145."Finally I draw your attention to "Smart Fraction" Theory, which examines the notion that to run a modern, complex, industrialised society requires a mass of people with (verbal) IQs greater than around 106. Our best societies today have a smart fraction just under 50% (see graph at the bottom of the linked article).
|Refer to text below to understand this|
"We know that human intellectual capacity has risen through small incremental changes at very many genes, probably hundreds if not thousands. Have these changes been the same in all populations?The alleles which Piffer frequency-analysed differentially code for things like:
"Davide Piffer (2013) has tried to answer this question by using a small subset of these genes. He began with seven SNPs whose different alleles are associated with differences in performance on PISA or IQ tests. Then, for fifty human populations, he looked up the prevalence of each allele that seems to increase performance. Finally, for each population, he calculated the average prevalence of these alleles at all seven genes.
"The average prevalence was 39% among East Asians, 36% among Europeans, 32% among Amerindians, 24% among Melanesians and Papuan-New Guineans, and 16% among sub-Saharan Africans. The lowest scores were among San Bushmen (6%) and Mbuti Pygmies (5%). A related finding is that all but one of the alleles are specific to humans and not shared with ancestral primates.
"Yes, he was using a small subset of genes that influence intellectual capacity. But you don't need a big number to get the big picture. If you dip your hand into a barrel of differently colored jelly beans, the colors you see in your hand will match well enough what's in the barrel. In any case, if the same trend holds up with a subset of 50 or so genes, it will be hard to say it's all due to chance."
"... the regulation of neuronal morphology in neurons, including hippocampal neurons and developing brains"Ten or so SNPs don't determine very much of a person's intelligence, which depends upon the actions of hundreds or thousands of genes as well as environmental effects. But even a small sample - if representative and correlated - can be quite predictive, as Piffer explains.
"... neuronal excitability, synaptic plasticity and feedback regulation of acetylcholine release."
"As the effect size of each SNP is typically very low (around 0.1%), even 10 SNPs would not account for more than 1% of the variance in IQ or educational attainment scores across populations. The likely explanation for why the effect size for the 10 SNPs at a cross population level detected in this study is so high (around 80%), is that the alleles are not randomly distributed across human races, so that the combined frequency of a few alleles predicts the frequencies of many other alleles affecting the same phenotype. This inflates the correlation with the phenotype well beyond anything that would be explainable by the modest effect sizes of the examined SNPs.The particular SNPs used in the study are listed in the tables at the back of the paper. I was naturally interested in checking which of these SNPs are analysed by 23andMe. It turns out that about half are. So in the graphic above you see the 'good for intelligence' SNPs in the first column, the gene name (where available) in the second and the chromosome it's on (from 23andMe) in the third. The fourth column is the specific nucleotide which marks this as a 'good-for-intelligence' allele, and the fifth is the database where the source-data came from (refer to the paper for details). The final column is my own genotype at these alleles, as downloaded from 23andMe.
"This is nothing more than the principle applied to psychometric instruments, such as IQ tests or personality scales, where a handful of items produce a reliable score, precisely because these items represent an underlying, latent factor and are thus correlated among each other. Even reliable psychometric scales are usually composed of around 10 items, equal to the number of SNPs examined in the present study, which in turn showed good internal reliability (Cronbach’s α= 0.84).
"A model based on random evolution or genetic drift alone cannot account for such a pattern."