Sunday, March 25, 2007

Carl Sagan on Marijuana

The esteemed astronomer who book Broca's Brain I read earlier has an essay on marijuana. I'm reading it right now (stoned) and it's quite enjoyable.

I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness. Both of these senses of the absurd can be communicated, and some of the most rewarding highs I've had have been in sharing talk and perceptions and humor. Cannabis brings us an awareness that we spend a lifetime being trained to overlook and forget and put out of our minds. A sense of what the world is really like can be maddening; cannabis has brought me some feelings for what it is like to be crazy, and how we use that word 'crazy' to avoid thinking about things that are too painful for us. In the Soviet Union political dissidents are routinely placed in insane asylums. The same kind of thing, a little more subtle perhaps, occurs here: 'did you hear what Lenny Bruce said yesterday? He must be crazy.' When high on cannabis I discovered that there's somebody inside in those people we call mad.

The hypocrisies and posturing of myself and fellow men is so acutely obvious on the blogosphere, when you're constantly confronted with hyper-literate, arrogant intellectuals who think they know exactly how the world works, and think that it's their duty to tell everyone else. I'm one of those people just like all of the others, but at the same time I have to admit that it's oh so ironic and amusing.

When I'm high I can penetrate into the past, recall childhood memories, friends, relatives, playthings, streets, smells, sounds, and tastes from a vanished era. I can reconstruct the actual occurrences in childhood events only half understood at the time. Many but not all my cannabis trips have somewhere in them a symbolism significant to me which I won't attempt to describe here, a kind of mandala embossed on the high. Free-associating to this mandala, both visually and as plays on words, has produced a very rich array of insights.

That's hilarious - here I got high and opened my Bible to look up something from my childhood memories (the whole deal between the Jews and the Canaanites).

There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we're down the next day. Some of the hardest work I've ever done has been to put such insights down on tape or in writing. The problem is that ten even more interesting ideas or images have to be lost in the effort of recording one. It is easy to understand why someone might think it's a waste of effort going to all that trouble to set the thought down, a kind of intrusion of the Protestant Ethic. But since I live almost all my life down I've made the effort - successfully, I think. Incidentally, I find that reasonably good insights can be remembered the next day, but only if some effort has been made to set them down another way. If I write the insight down or tell it to someone, then I can remember it with no assistance the following morning; but if I merely say to myself that I must make an effort to remember, I never do.

All of this is so true that I have to quote all of it. I often force myself to blog when stoned, but it's always after I've had most of my thoughts, during the comedown. And often they are sometimes hard to formalize.

I find that most of the insights I achieve when high are into social issues, an area of creative scholarship very different from the one I am generally known for. I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidities of racism in terms of gaussian distribution curves. It was a point obvious in a way, but rarely talked about. I drew the curves in soap on the shower wall, and went to write the idea down. One idea led to another, and at the end of about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide range of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics. Because of problems of space, I can't go into the details of these essays, but from all external signs, such as public reactions and expert commentary, they seem to contain valid insights. I have used them in university commencement addresses, public lectures, and in my books.

But let me try to at least give the flavor of such an insight and its accompaniments. One night, high on cannabis, I was delving into my childhood, a little self-analysis, and making what seemed to me to be very good progress. I then paused and thought how extraordinary it was that Sigmund Freud, with no assistance from drugs, had been able to achieve his own remarkable self-analysis. But then it hit me like a thunderclap that this was wrong, that Freud had spent the decade before his self-analysis as an experimenter with and a proselytizer for cocaine; and it seemed to me very apparent that the genuine psychological insights that Freud brought to the world were at least in part derived from his drug experience. I have no idea whether this is in fact true, or whether the historians of Freud would agree with this interpretation, or even if such an idea has been published in the past, but it is an interesting hypothesis and one which passes first scrutiny in the world of the downs.

Cannabis enables nonmusicians to know a little about what it is like to be a musician, and nonartists to grasp the joys of art. But I am neither an artist nor a musician. What about my own scientific work? While I find a curious disinclination to think of my professional concerns when high - the attractive intellectual adventures always seem to be in every other area - I have made a conscious effort to think of a few particularly difficult current problems in my field when high. It works, at least to a degree. I find I can bring to bear, for example, a range of relevant experimental facts which appear to be mutually inconsistent. So far, so good. At least the recall works. Then in trying to conceive of a way of reconciling the disparate facts, I was able to come up with a very bizarre possibility, one that I'm sure I would never have thought of down. I've written a paper which mentions this idea in passing. I think it's very unlikely to be true, but it has consequences which are experimentally testable, which is the hallmark of an acceptable theory...

When cannabis is legalized, I hope to see this ratio as one of he parameters printed on the pack. I hope that time isn't too distant; the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.

It was written in 1969. Has the world gotten madder? I think perhaps yes. It's hard to measure madness, however, because every age seems as mad as the next to me.


I love Stumbleupon. Check it out. It can seriously sift through the shit on the internet and bring recognition to the good websites out there through social networking. Note my Stumbleupon profile link at the right - I comment on a lot of webpages that I read with it. Much more efficient, though also much less powerful than the blog.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sunk costs and marginal benefits

Economics teaches us that rationally, we should ignore sunk costs and instead focus on marginal benefits. (An example of this principle that I often use: you read a book halfway and discover it's utter crap. Do you finish it? This applies to any other good which is consumed slowly.) Yet what's often not added to that is that your sunk costs can dramatically affect your (perceived or non-perceived) marginal benefits. Once you've invested time into something it becomes more beneficial for you to continue then to start over again - at least in the short-run. The marginal benefit to continuing with philosophy and economics might have been, to apply a random number, 1 compared to the 2 of chemistry back then, but at this point I might have fallen behind to the point where that is no longer the case. Then again, obviously the marginal benefit to studying a hard science seemed lower to me then - I saw in economics and philosophy an overarching view of the world which encompasses everything. And I couldn't stand not knowing what that theory said. Now that I know the main theory, however, I should move on.

This is similar to a dilemma that I face. It might be more beneficial in the long-run for me to focus on something scientific rather than philosophy, but if I was to do that all my work towards philosophy would be wasted and I wouldn't get a philosophy degree. That philosophy degree might be useful. But what would certainly be useful is a mathematics, chemistry, or computer science degree. And at some level, shouldn't I take into account these sunk costs, especially if by investing these three years into philosophy I will forever be behind if I went to chemistry?

Firms face a dilemma with sunk costs. They have no way of knowing how much it will cost to research and implement expensive new technologies, nor what exactly the benefit will be, nor at what point the full benefits will appear. One can invest a huge amount of money into a project, then, citing economics, scrap it - only to find later that if you'd continued on the project you would have reaped enormous rewards. And the opposite can happen.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Cost Curves

How easy is it to really come up with a long-run cost function in which fixed costs are no longer fixed? It certainly doesn't seem easy to me. Yet this is never mentioned in the economics classes that I take.

Then again, I can see how you could start to analyze it, by predicting how much increased fix costs would cost and how much they would increase output.


Why the fuck is their a Google ad offering to sell plastic bottles, with a link named "Plastic Bottles Cancer".

Can these people really afford to pay for an ad? What is going on here?

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Clouds by Aristophanes

The Clouds is so amusing:

STUDENT: All right. Chaerephon of Sphettus once asked Socrates whether, in his opinion, a gnat buzzed through its mouth or through its anal sphincter.

STREPSIADES: What did Socrates say about the gnat?

STUDENT: He said that the gnat’s intestinal tract
was narrow—therefore air passing through it,
because of the constriction, was pushed with force
towards the rear. So then that orifice,
being a hollow space beside a narrow tube,
transmits the noise caused by the force of air.

STREPSIADES: So a gnat’s arse hole is a giant trumpet!
O triply blessed man who could do this,
anatomize the anus of a gnat!
A man who knows a gnat’s guts inside out
would have no trouble winning law suits.

STUDENT: Just recently he lost a great idea—
a lizard stole it!

STREPSIADES: How’d that happen? Tell me.

STUDENT: He was studying movements of the moon—
its trajectory and revolutions.
One night, as he was gazing up, open mouthed,
staring skyward, a lizard on the roof
relieved itself on him.

STREPSIADES: A lizard crapped on Socrates! That’s good!

Whenever one thinks of ancient literature they think of boring, slow, or hard to understand stuff. This shit is too hilarious.

There is some irony in the later stuff as well.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


It is worst when you are intelligent enough to know that you are not truly intelligent.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Taking A Break From Weed

As I mentioned earlier, I'm taking a break from marijuana, so my posts are likely to be less frequent. Let's see how it affects my math skills for a month.

Monday, March 05, 2007

More On Plasticizers

For those who are curious, the Wikipedia page on plasticizers is actually fairly good:
n the study by the University of Missouri in Columbia, urine samples were collected from pregnant women in four United States cities. All of the women were found to have levels of phthalate residues in their urine[citation needed]. Upon birth of the children whose mother's urine had been previously measured, the genital features and anogenital distance were measured and correlated with the residue levels in the mother's urine. In boys, the highest levels of residue were seven times more likely to have a shortened anogenital distance.[4]There was also a correlation between heightened residue levels and smaller penis sizes. The testes of boys with smaller penises were more likely to have testes that didn't descend properly into the scrotum.
Gee, I'm glad I missed out on those chemicals... ;)

Of course, researchers at the libertarian-leaning George Mason University criticized the results. (Toothlessly, I might add. A homogenous group might be a benefit in a study like this. It's called ceteris paribus. While the study isn't conclusive, there would not be that much industry damage of the offending chemicals were eliminated as they were in EU. These are not vital to our economy.)

George Mason is, incidentally, the home of many of the crackpot economic bloggers across the internet.

UPDATE: For an exchange between the critics and the Swan et al researchers, see here.

Email to Snopes about Plasticizers

Generally I like Snopes (especially their page on Barack Obama), but they obviously have their biases when it comes to health issues. This article is outright intellectually dishonest if not technically dishonest. True, the plasticizers used in water bottles may not be carcinogenic, but they are known endocrine disrupters. These are not benign chemicals. They reference one article, and the doctor from John Hopkins himeslf states: "Phthalates are environmental contaminants that can exhibit hormone-like behavior by acting as endocrine disruptors in humans and animals. If you heat up plastics, you could increase the leaching of phthalates from the containers into water and food."

This is the letter I sent them. We'll see if I get a reply.

I'm emailing you about your article on PET plastic bottles here:

You reference only one link. If you read that article you will note that he is only referring to dioxins. Obviously dioxins are not in plastic bottles. However, if you read it carefully you will note that he admits that endocrine-disrupting phthalates are used: "Phthalates are environmental contaminants that can exhibit hormone-like behavior by acting as endocrine disruptors in humans and animals. If you heat up plastics, you could increase the leaching of phthalates from the containers into water and food."

That's what he says. Note that Europe has banned a fair amount of phthalates in children's toys. Their nature as endocrine disrupters is not really disputed among scientists, as you would like it to appear.

Now, maybe DEHP is not an extreme health risk, but you should be honest about the fact that it is does exhibit hormonal effects.

Note this page to begin with:

There is plenty of other data out there. If you want me do direct you to it, please reply, otherwise, I'll leave the research to you.

"Supplements don't work"

Seems that people are, as usual, coming to a lot of conclusions from the recent Journal of the American Medical Association (conveniently difficult to access) study. For one, I'm not too concerned if the masses stop taking supplements. That means cheaper supplements for me. For another, it was a meta-analysis of 68 studies with different aims. (I will take a moment to rant that in the 21st century news articles should link to the study they are covering.)

Since I can't find the study and need to get some sleep, I won't say much more. I just wonder how rigorous these studies were in matching those receiving supplements and those not receiving supplements in other health habits (eating vegetables, smoking, drug use, other diseases). Confounding factors...

UPDATE: This story claims that the study didn't include two large stories which found decreased mortality from supplements. Also, it's heard that many of the supplements used were outdated, synthetic formulations of Vitamin E, which is a recurring problem. Synthetic Vitamin E is well-known to be less active and could be dangerous. Remember that Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, and thus it could be dangerous in repeated high doses.

Finally managed to find the study through Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Complete Guide to Food Allergy And Intolerance

I finished this book today. It was refreshingly plainspoken and informative. The author describes in common-sense language the science (as of 1989, when this was published). He's honest about what the science can tell us and what things are inconclusive, but the evidence that he presents (and that I've found as well) leans strongly in favor of his hypothesis that the increased number of chemicals in our world and diet are increasing food intolerance (which is a quiet epidemic).

He also covers candidiasis (overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans, a normal component of the human gut. While that Wikipedia page says that this disease is not considered scientifically valid, there are many doctors who believe in it. (Note Jacob Teitelbaum here, a man who engineered a rigorous clinical trial in which he treated 91% of chronic fatigue sufferers successfully. This is a disease which many mainstream doctors still believe is psychosomatic or untreatable, believe it or not.) Yeast can grow out of control when antibiotics destroy the bacteria which compete with it in the gut. It also feeds on sugar - the first step towards treating candidiasis is to cut out all sugar. The interesting thing is that it is impossible to diagnose candidiasis. The yeast doesn't show up in stool.

Related to this is Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a horrible disease which has been increasing in frequency. In this book, back in 1989, the author Brostoff notes by Dr. Hunter of Cambridge which found that women given antibiotic treatments during their hysterectomy got IBS while women who didn't, didn't. The antibiotics killed good bacteria and allowed bad bacteria to overgrow. Yet even today after multiple studies confirming this (read the Wikipedia article), mainstream medicine still considers irritable bowel syndrome or "spastic colon" to be largely psychosomatic and untreatable. I know because I experienced this. They didn't even inform me that food intolerance (celiac sprue) might be the cause of my troubles. Later I had my blood tested and I tested negative for the antibodies (these tests are notoriously unreliable), yet after I cut out wheat I immediately felt great.

Food intolerance is, of course, what the book is about. If you ever have any intestinal problems or even energy problems, cut out wheat and milk. Gluten and casein are the two most insidious allergens out there. Many estimate that 70% of those suffering from IBS are in fact simply intolerant to some of their foods.

The sheer ridiculousness of mainstream medicine is mind-blowing.

I put the updated 2000 version of the book on my wish list. My one complaint is that the scientific studies which he refers to are not formally cited.

Party night

A redundant post: another night I walk away from a party somehow disappointed in the human race (and myself). College parties are the worst. I attempted to start an intellectual conversation but I was shouted down by one guy who said that such a thing was futile. Nevertheless someone agreed with me: ultimately certainty is impossible and democracy is simply the best of a worst system. Plus, talking about it makes it better (the guy telling me to "shut the fuck up" disagrees).

I got shut down by the women (or, at least, so it seems). What strikes me is that the physical deprivation is not what annoys me the most; no, it's the implied fact that they don't want me emotionally and mentally that rubs at me.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


I am generally considered a nice guy despite my apparent elitism and distaste for people in general. But I wonder just how much of my niceness stems not from magnaminity (I swear Blogger can't spell this word) but instead from weakness. On nights like this particularly my general weakness strikes me.

Another night

Another night in which I limp away feeling like women were goals and I never scored. Maybe that's chauvinistic or something. I don't care. Yet some of these girls I've previously pretty much rejected; I consider nearly all of them below my standards. For some reason this makes a difference - impressionable me was impressed upon by Nietzsche when he said that marriage should be reserved for special perfect relationships among higher types (Yet he said in other places that concubines should be fine, since one can't expect one's wife to be brilliant and beautiful, if I remember. Take my memory with a grain of salt.) I sort of adopt the same opinion. When you have sex you're taking risks: physical, social, and even mental. It better be worth the risk. But then the benefits are greater than you might think, in terms of experience, self-confidence, and perhaps status. And then there's maybe loneliness...

Let's just say I wish I hadn't rebuffed these girls right now.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The secrets of Facebook

Even if you already know that what goes on Facebook isn't private, watch this. It's an illustration of the greasy financial web of interconnecting interests which rules our world. One can't humanly keep track of them, but they exist, all around us, and they're always working to further themselves.

Sex, Teachers, and Teenagers

Yet another story about a young female teacher having sex with teenage boys. What makes this interesting is not only that she's accused of having sex with, ah, five boys, but also the most common responses among the Digg community. These are mainly young men who say that she shouldn't be punished -- and I kinda agree. Laws should punish people for causing harm, and if these boys aren't really harmed, then I don't really see a reason to punish. Obviously any information we have as to whether they are harmed or not will be biased.

Thinking back on my middle-school years (and that flirtatious 45-year old gym teacher I had) I can think of a lot of things which seem, in retrospect, more harmful to my delicate psyche than something like this would have been. I remember being very immature and very impressionable, but not so impressionable that I couldn't make decisions. Historically teenage boys were considered men and that may not be a bad policy when considering cases like this. The career and social risks that a female teacher faces when doing something like this are large enough.

I dunno. I originally thought of approaching this story from the pretentious perspective of the philosophy of law, but it's sort of ran away from me -- I'm not inspired to write well when I'm not stoned. From my perspective crimes should be enforced in accordance with the harms they inflict on other people. John Stuart Mill came up with this and called it the harm principle. Ultimately even paternalistic laws should be based in this approach: drug use cannot be criminalized because it is harmful to oneself but only because by harming oneself the user is harming society. (I still don't think victimless crimes are reasonable.)

Those who argue that females "molesting teenage boys" should face the same punishment as males molesting young girls are idiots. There are far more risks and harms involved in the molestation of young girls. To be effective law must take into account psychology and damage in order to reach its goal: justice.

On another note, check out another story on Digg: Man Sues Little Girl After Hitting Her With His Bike (From Behind).

February 2007 Monthly Review

Time for my second monthly review. Unfortunately I can hardly remember what I did this past month and when I did it.

1-7(Tuesday-Wednesday): Off the top of my head I have no idea what I did during this time period besides schoolwork. Worrying. Based on what I wrote, I attended theater, made toxic chili (burned), looked at Hot Russian Brides, and got stoned a lot, and tried to clear out books. Nothing too exciting.

8-14(Th-Wed): Nothing eventful comes to mind.

15-21(Th-Wed): Had a crazy night but otherwise nothing.

22-28(Th-Wed): Won some money playing poker. Finished up 7-page Venezuela paper and turned it in.

Books Read:
    7-page paper on Venezuelan economic history
    8-page take-home exam for Philosophy of Law
    An A on my Macroeconomics test

Goals for March(listed in priority):
    Study HTML
    Decide where in the stock market to put $1500.
    Gain weight (preferably in muscle).
    Review Microeconomics texts.
    Clear out more books.