Tuesday, February 27, 2007

PLoS Biology

I've spent the entire night going through PLoS Biology. I should have kept track of the articles I particularly liked here. I love just being able to look through this stuff in an organized fashion.
Next up: PLoS Medicine.

Embryonic Stem Cells

From the scientists themselves: they need funding in order to continue the the science.

Those who tell you that our previous lines work fine or that adult stem cells will do the job are usually not scientists and don't know what they're talking about.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sentience Sapience & Value

Some philosophers seem to argue from the position that sentience sapience requires that we treat an object as a moral equal. But does that make sense? I'm tempted to say yes (the relative path is always the hardest to think through) -- but what about the practical concerns? We know how sapient human beings think, for a large part -- other beings, though often predictable, are alien in their thoughts. (dogs)

Could a species possibly be without a moral sense yet sapient, or does morality follow directly from sapience?

UPDATE: The most obvious problem of all is the epistemological question: how do we really know whether any other beings are really sentient or sapient? This section in Wikipedia describes the philosophy and problems fairly well.

I've just learned that sentience and sapience are actually quite distinct concepts, with the former not implying self-awareness and the latter implying it. It's left me a bit confused. Regardless, Singer uses sentience: if they have nerve endings which transmit pain signals to the brain, then they are sentient (many animals -- how about starfish and sponges?). If they don't, then they don't suffer. If they do suffer, we need to minimize their suffering (to what degree?). Singer seems to ignore the relevance of "sapience" as I've described it, but I'm not so sure that that is a good path.

Anyway. I need to do some late-night grocery closes.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The past few hours

I've been watching those TED talks and reading The Simple Dollar. The author of The Simple Dollar is crazy -- I don't understand how he reads and writes so much, and so fast.

I need to go back to the speed-reading courses.

UPDATE: I feel like I'm a turtle compared to him. Is that what GTD is like at max potential?

Nanosilver Particles

When I was at the grocery store a couple weeks ago looking at sponges, I noticed that one said it was treated with the anti-microbial "Ultra-Fresh." So I wrote that down and today I looked it up:
‘Ultra-Fresh Silpure’ uses proprietary nano-technology to produce the ultra-fine silver particles essential to ease of application and long-term protection. The technology is based on the power of silver to fight bacteria. It, thus fights contamination and maintain freshness.

Silver is less toxic than most metals which have similar anti-microbial effects, but I'm still wary. Note this story:
Washington -- To find out if the tiniest airborne particles pose a health risk, University of Rochester Medical Center scientists have shown that when rats breathe in nano-sized materials, the particles quickly follow an efficient path from the nose to several brain regions.

That's nothing to sneeze at.

Aching Shoulder

When I woke up this morning my shoulder was killing me. Likely it was that wrestling the night before. I threw out my arm when I was in middle school. I looked it up the internet and didn't find anything too interesting (ice it, heat it, stretch it), but a few things were interesting: biofeedback and ultrasound. I wish I could afford biofeedback for a number of things, but it'll have to wait. The ultrasound looks like a scam but it is intriguing nonetheless.

When I looked up ultrasound on Wikipedia I saw a link to this:


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Exposure to ultrasound can affect fetal brain development, a new study suggests. But researchers say the findings, in mice, should not discourage pregnant women from having ultrasound scans for medical reasons.

When pregnant mice were exposed to ultrasound, a small number of nerve cells in the developing brains of their fetuses failed to extend correctly in the cerebral cortex.

As science gets better and better I predict that we will find that humans are quite susceptible to little things like this.

I ended up spraying some Therapain Plus on the shoulder. Seems to work great for my back pain too.

The Ivory Tower

I talked my dad recently and said I have no respect for 90% of those in the U.S. Congress. I said they weren't intellectuals and they had no principles. He said he had no respect for the Ivory Tower.

I wanted to tell him that intellectuals had principles, they knew what the country needed, they weren't the shallow, stupid, short-sighted people that most of our Congressmen were. But I couldn't. I knew my words would sound empty. I just continued to point out how crazy, stupid, and dishonest our politicians were.

The real question is: if intellectuals or academics are so smart, why do they not enter the public arena? Why don't they infiltrate the bourgeoisie and change things? Is it because they don't think changing things is really necessary? (Revealed preference.) Likely, perhaps -- but it might also be because that intelligence, when it comes to success, can be a curse. The intelligent forever second-guess themselves.

Honestly, the question of why the "natural aristocracy" -- the academics and intellectuals -- don't rise to the top is still relevant. Nobody has supplied a good answer thus far. It leaves the intelligence of the so-called intellectuals suspect.

UPDATE: Philosophy is the history of second-guessing -- and really, is there any point to questioning whether or not I'm experiencing reality right now or I'm dreaming? Or whether inductive logic is necessarily logical? Or whether we can really know the "thing in itself"?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Critics & Prejudgment

There is always slimy about the critic - one who makes a living off of influencing and biasing the opinion of people on pieces of art. Be the one who chooses not to. But there I go again with my indecisiveness, I suppose. Some things are just pure crap.

(And I know that my views have possibly been constructed from the views of others. Most especially in philosophy. But is the criticism of philosophy necessary? I suppose so, especially when you consider that any attack is a form of criticism.)

Fame

If I was ever famous I think I might hate it. To always be prejudged, weighed against yourself, and to be possibly found wanting. How annoying.

Oh how I wish I told jokes. But this is soliloquoy.

UPDATE Looking through a search for Ralph Waldo Emerson I find this:
3
A famous quotation of Emerson's goes a little like this: "A friend is one before whom I may think aloud." Pffuh. You know as well as I do that this man had no friends. Shut up, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nobody likes a blabbermouth. Try to be the one who's interested in other people; everyone likes that guy. Plus, he's usually a pushover who'll buy you a drink.

Names & Style

How much is a person affected by their name, I wonder? Certainly their outward style is affected. What kind of person would I have been had I been named Smith? Would I change my name?

(I hope I would have.)

Decisions

Just make the decisions, I tell myself!

And yet I can't, until I know more, until I'm certain. The intelligent man's greatest strength and weakness: indecisiveness.

Praise and Performance

After this brief debate on Parapundit, I enjoyed reading this article on how praise affects children's performance. If you are or plan to be a parent or teacher, read this article.
Thomas didn’t just score in the top one percent. He scored in the top oneof being standardized tested expected subjected to this shit but i know that rea percent of the top one percent.

But as Thomas has progressed through school, this self-awareness that he’s smart hasn’t always translated into fearless confidence when attacking his schoolwork. In fact, Thomas’s father noticed just the opposite. “Thomas didn’t want to try things he wouldn’t be successful at,” his father says. “Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this.’ ” With no more than a glance, Thomas was dividing the world into two—things he was naturally good at and things he wasn’t.

What 'intelligent' person can't empathize with this kid? I despise being called intelligent (I despite all flattery, and this one in particular is always insincere -- it feels like an accusation). It makes me uncomfortable for one major reason: it puts expectations on you.

And now I feel like my professors have this expectation of me. If I don't perform I'm immediately unintelligent. It makes me sick to my stomach. This is what Thomas felt.

fuck intelligence fuck school i wannna drop out and play video games im tired lly I have myself to blame for this "intelligence" fetish cause i spend so much time trying to cultivate an intelligent aloof superior attitude it's sickening someone please shoot me

(I'd like to say I do not consider myself intelligent, but that would not be sincere.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

True Hero: Mario Savio

Mario Savio: He was a philosophy student (and later professor) and a civil rights activist.

The Key

I wonder if I'm the only one who is actually more productive and rational when I'm either high or drunk. Alcohol is actually better for math and general reading. I accept the words and concepts wholeheartedly. Marijuana is better for theorizing, brainstorming, and imagining.

Ultimately they are crutches, but surprisingly effective ones.

Revver

Checked out this article. It never ceases to surprise me how stupid businesses can be. I immediately saw the problem with Revver when I posted here. I tried to watch the Lonelygirl15 episodes (never watched one after I posted that, by the way) and found that I couldn't simply sit down and watch them one after another. Instead I had to go back and look through them.

Today Revver hasn't changed much. It's frontpage advertises its model instead of showing off its content. It's a goner, especially since Youtube plans to share revenues soon.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Been "Busy"

It's too bad I haven't been posting more. I've been too busy reading World Development Indicators (not really) and scouring scholarly journals for information on Venezuela's past economic history. (In reality I've been surfing the internet listlessly and getting high quite a bit.) As usual, when projects come due, I freak out and think a lot about them without accomplishing a ton. I did a presentation on Venezuela and the professor said I was "scattered." The fifteen minutes whipped by faster than I thought it would -- nevertheless, I feel that I did better than all but one of the others. Now I have to finish up the paper. I have a rough draft done, but I'm harried by a feeling that I don't truly understand all of these economic indicators and financial data. I don't understand how purchasing power parity, exchange rates, capital flows, interest rates, government accounts and all that other stuff really works. (This is mainly because I am too lazy to spend the mental energy to really figure it all out, but also because this class is the first time I've really been exposed to all this stuff.)

Since this last weekend I've been feeling sick to my stomach. I know (at least partly) why but I can't say. I feel like I've done the first thing that I truly regret. Before now I could never empathize with people who said they were "tortured" by past demons -- before I literally didn't have any, or if I did they disappeared after a night of sleep.

I like to pride myself on my amorality -- I feel that I could kill without regret if I felt like it, or it was necessary. (At the same time I am hit by guilt when I look at my garbage or drive -- but not when I eat meat.) I'm not so sure about killing now. At the same time I feel that my regret now is entirely selfish -- I feel regret because I took a serious risk to myself that I really shouldn't have.

Today I briefly looked over Development and Youth, published by the World Bank. It asked whether young people were rational and described three economic models. I can't remember exactly what the three models (traditional, developmental?, behavioral) said but I know that one (behavioral, I think) seemed the most realistic to me: young people heavily discount future benefits and emphasize present benefits more than adults. They also seem to assume that their preferences will stay the same. They are heavily influenced by the social norms. Damnit. I can't remember what all it said exactly. I'll have to look it up. Anyway -- that describes me to some extent.

My problems are exacerbated by caloric deficiency (dropped 10 pounds off my scrawny frame in the past couple months) and generalized anxiety disorder. I'm too cheap to buy more kava kava. I'm going to have to ask my dad for money again this month. I hate being in debt so much.

As I drove to school, I thought to myself: don't take life so seriously. Chin up. Why let people affect you. But then I thought again: is it really reasonable or possible to not take life seriously? Isn't life, suffering, and all that other jazz serious business? The problem with taking it all seriously is that it's depressing -- is that reason enough not to take it seriously? Then again, looking at life as a hilarious farce grants you freedom and lightness of being. Can you take life seriously and approach it as a big joke at the same time? I think so.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Stoned thoughts

I got stoned this last night. Whenever I'm stoned I have deep thoughts (or at least I think so). The problem is that I can hardly ever remember what I thought.

The proper instinct: to resist seductive pleasures as long as possible. The better instinct: to redefine what is pleasurable.

There is something inappropriate and vaguely sexual in being interested in children unrelated to you...it infects your relationship with them. (Came to me as I watched Half Nelson. The teacher's relationship seems even more tainted. The movie, by the way, was fascinating -- the teacher is actually teaching "dialectics" to middle school children while smoking crack in his free-time and gets caught by a young girl. Brilliant - so possible, if unlikely.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

World Economic Indicators

The sheer idiocy with which World Economic Indicators was designed still blows my mind. Instead of presenting each country individually, with all its statistics, it presents the information by category. So to get a full overview of the statistics of a country I have to manually assemble all the information. It's ridiculous. The information is exorbitantly priced on the internet, where it is assembled well. Yet my professor (who spent no time going over the information) wants me to assemble and understand all this information within a couple weeks.

I have trouble respecting economists when they aren't able to present information efficiently.

The Penn World Tables are better, but the formatting is still ugly and the appendix is weak.

UPDATE: I brought up the RGDP per capita figures with my professor, attempting to find out exactly how they differed from the RGDP Chain-Series. He couldn't tell me. Anyone able to help out? (We were both apparently too lazy to really research it.)

The Weekend

The last weekend was pretty crazy. I won't go into detail, but I got laid and started a fight. No real damage was done during the fight. Afterwards I hung out smoking weed and listening to bad pop music with a few buddies.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Watching Anime

Right now I'm watching an anime rendition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. If you've never watched anime or played the video games, I doubt it'd be up your alley. To be honest, it's a bit boring and very badly drawn. But now I feel like loading up the videogame or checking out the book. Anyone know if Chinese literature is good?

If you do feel like checking out anime, start with Berserk. It's by far the best I've ever seen.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Deterministic Compatibilism

People often think that determinism automatically means that there is no moral responsibility, and that nobody can act freely. This post states that and proposes a solution: we forget about how deterministic the world is. He may be joking, but this is similar to William James' position: that we had to believe in free will on moral grounds. Regardless, here was my comment:

That’s not a solution.

The truth is that you don’t know the future. In a sense, you can decide the future - because nobody knows what the future will be, and you have the power to look ahead, evaluate your free will (or lack thereof), look at the consequences, and make a decision.

Think about that. If you think it’s totally out of your control, it is. If you don’t, it isn’t. There’s something to be said for those self-help books and motivational speakers who say “you decide what you want to be.”

It’s a laborious process to exercise rationality in your actions, but when you do, you are exercising free will.

This is called deterministic compatibilism.


Free will can happen (to a degree) within a deterministic physical system. It has a limit, but nevertheless we have some ability to respond to environmental stimuli, based on our genetics. How we act is predetermined, and what environmental stimuli we are affected by is up to chance. If I convinced you that you can adopt a non-fatalistic stance towards free and you acted on it, exerting some measure of volition, then my stimuli could push you towards a path of rational action. If you aren't convinced, you may adopt a fatalistic stance and drift through life. What you do or don't do depends upon your past environment and genetics -- ultimately, God or chance may be morally responsible. But society can't punish God. Society can only punish you. It doesn't matter whether you wanted to be born with no sense of right or wrong, no sense of discipline, no intelligence, no future, ect. You play with the cards you're dealt, and if you don't play well, then that's your fault.

It's a tragedy, but that's life.

(The ultimate irony is that I have yet to start my 5-page International Trade paper, due tomorrow.)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Measurers of Art

As I read through reviews at Metacritic, I wondered - why are these opinions valid? Often they are contradicted by the values of the masses, yet people still let these "critics" evaluate art. Is it because -- these few are better at measuring what is "objectively" valuable? Either that or they are -- nonsensical? (Disjunctive syllogism.) Could these people, then, be more valuable than the masses?

The interesting question: would any of these people truly believe in treating other people differently under the law because of it currently? How about in the past?

Let's consider a very outlandish scenario. You, a Thinker, and a Barbarian are alone on one large island, with one human. You are the last humans on the earth. The Barbarian treats you contemptuously, but doesn't kill you. You are beneath him. He is strong, but not good. The woman is attracted to him, but you know that if you kill him, she will come to you and she will respect you. She knows that if the positions were reversed, the Barbarian would immediately kill you. You think that this man will populate the Earth with dumb but strong legions. The utilitarian question in the state of nature: do you kill him, perhaps even in his sleep? Do you even have any qualms about killing him?

This elaborate story is perhaps a little exaggerated. I could apply the question to anyone in the state of nature: do you sacrifice your ideas in your weakness? If someone bullies you and takes your money, what do you do? What sort of morals really exist in the state of nature?

And is our current state so much different than the state of nature, with its infinite power struggles?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Ignite

Ignite is a website community for (seemingly) intellectually "aware" and concerned young Christians. Though I'm no Christian, I can't help but support such an endeavor. They even have a section on helping people across the globe! As if Jesus would be concerned for everyone regardless of nationality, race, gender, religion and sexual preference. How un-American. I ran across it through a link from Andrew Sullivan to a philosophy post on God. Sad to say, I don't understand the post. I'm tempted to think that the poster is performing the typical approach of theologians: assuming the existence of God rather than arguing for his existence. He doesn't even argue for how God can exist at these different levels and really why these different levels are better except in the sense that they seem to increase faith and a "correct" interpretation of God.

I dunno. It's late and I don't know anything about Anselm beyond his argument for God, which essentially states (from what I remember) that because God is necessarily perfect, and existence is more perfect than nonexistence, God exists. Why is existence "more perfect" than nonexistence? Who knows. It's one of those archaic arguments that seems like nonsense to us modern, empirical people.

Philosophy trickles down to become common sense...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Reviews from the past

For some strange reason I decided to do movie reviews for a short stint. Then I realized how pointless it was and quickly stopped. I'm gonna toss them up here for remembrance rather than keeping them in this annoying text file.

Blow=7

Review: Blow seems like a half-drama, half-comedy. It's not that realistic about the cocaine industry, and the characters are often off-the wall, but I don't know much about the cocaine industry, and there are all sorts of characters in real-life. It reminded me of "Goodfellas". Johnny Depp plays his character George pretty well, even though George seems fairly shallow and boring to begin with. He's rather faceless, now that I think of it.

Enjoyable, but not deep.

"Life passes most people by while they're making grand plans for it. Throughout my lifetime, I've left pieces of my heart here and there, and now there's not almost not enough to stay alive. But I force a smile, knowing that my ambition far exceeded my talent. There are no more white horses or pretty ladies at my door."
-Johnny Depp, "Blow"

Donnie Darko=8.5

Attempt to understand: I'm going to write this down before I start reading what other people think. I largely didn't understand the physics behind it, and I don't think they really matter. You can't draw practical conclusions from them, really. The physics was just a medium for expressing something else. It's the ultimate Outsider movie. Donnie Darko is one who stands for truth, and sees lies wherever he goes. He sees the craziness of the world. Partly it is because he's slightly insane, but there's also the fact there's reason in his insanity. That isn't realistic, but it is intriguing. Nietzche was also insane. Many great artists have been insane.

The universe is insane and meaningless. Humans spend their lives thinking with their sex organs, even though their minds can tell them that such striving is ultimately pointless. Donnie Darko is a desperate attempt to find meaning in all the random events - some deeper meaning behind all the nonsense. Ultimately, we can go 'round and 'round debating it... and find nothing. Everyone seeks their daily-feel good, but in the end they die alone, all their efforts pointless.

Should write a book about this sorta stuff, and have my main characters be destroyers. Might sell.

Fahrenheit 9/11=7

I think some of this ugly mood stems from watching this documentary. I laughed quite a bit in it, but it was bittersweet, astonished laughter. I just can't believe that things are this bad, or that Bush is quite this bad. It never really sunk into me before. Maybe I'm just being swayed too much by a hugely partisan attack on the Republicans, but for some reason I think he's right. The attack on Iraq was unjust - I've always known that, but I didn't realize how terrible its consequences were until now. The half-assed domination of Afghanistan has always pissed me off, but now it sickens me. If we'd focused all our forces on Afghanistan instead of Iraq everything would be much better. The tragedy of the deaths there hit me rather hard, surprisingly. I'd blame it partially on the music. I've always been rather deadened to "tragedy" of others, and death. I've never felt the death of someone I knew hit me hard. Perhaps now I'm just forcing myself to be empathic. Is that a good thing? I dunno.

PAN Pesticides Database

Check out the PAN Database. I'm tempted to donate to them, in the interests of supporting free and open information.

Monthly Review

I've decided to start doing monthly reviews in the hope that I can solidify my memory of past events. In late December I began "blogging" seriously, in large part because I found this guy to be damn interesting. I took down most of my old, rambling, very stupid posts. I may be changing the URL sometime soon.

First week: I began my class, Introduction to Statistics. One class for one month, 9-12 AM. I liked the teacher - likely the best math teacher I've ever had. I also began a Digg addiction, which allowed me to find Peekvid. I stayed up all night and watched all the Weeds episodes in a few days along with a few other shows. During this time I got stuck in a sleep schedule where I would stay up all night and sleep from about 1-7 PM. I repeated this for a while. I can't remember what I did during the weekend -- likely nothing. I began to sort through my old books with the intention of bringing a bunch to Goodwill. The only book that I really read out of my library was Environmental Science: A Global Concern. After reading it I was unsure of whether or not to donate it, but I will. The cat died.

Second week: Class was going good. I think I was still in the weird sleep mode. I can't remember doing much on the weekend. I checked out a few books:
    Western Philosophy by R.J. Hollingdale
    Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
    The Philosopher's Toolkit by Julian Baggini and Peter S. Fosl
    A Kierkegaard Anthology by Robert Bretall


I began to try reading them along with some of my old library. I read the first three fairly closely and the last not so closely, but I will return to it.

Third week: More of the same. Blogging, reading, pretending to think, not much to brag about.

Fourth Week: My roommates arrived halfway through this week. Always good to have company. That weekend I partied on Friday and recovered on Saturday and Sunday. Found out I aced Stats. I briefly began to get back into Armageddon but was stopped short when I died to a dirty human. There goes 200 hours of playing time.

Fifth Week: Classes have began and they're looking to be easy.

And now we're on to a new month. Along with attempting to keep up with school (easier said than done) I will push myself to study the subjects which repel me: science, web development, and math.

I wanted to get stoned and do this, but I was too distracted doing homework. I'm reading The Elusive Quest for Growth by William Easterly for my International Trade class. The crude analysis of developmental international finance institutions (e.g. the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) economists that Easterly exposes is nothing short of amazing. Hopefully I will get around to posting quotes later.