Saturday, July 10, 2010

Our capacity to believe

The difference between 'truth' and 'belief' is determined by, at what point of our query we run out of answers.  Since there is no predetermined metric for the number of questions that should be asked, it is up to us, as to when we give up asking questions and ascribe everything else to god or whatever we prefer. 

As our knowledge is processed into intelligence, we increase our capabilities to ask more questions.  For example, someone intelligent about the stock market will be able to comprehend an event better than the average, because this person will be able to answer a lot more questions in terms of 'truths'.

I'm not sure if this 'number of questions' can be related to other professional characteristics of a person, but at what point we will stop looking for the truth and resort to 'belief' is to a large extent determined by the effects of social forces on an individual?  Searching for the truth is however an individual trait? 

As individuals we look to discover the 'truths' and as a society we try to 'believe'?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Intelligence and Social Behavior

Finally, there's some data relating our intelligence and social behavior, although the limitations are significant and I haven't read the original paper yet -
The IQ differences, while statistically significant, are not stunning -- on the order of 6 to 11 points -- and the data should not be used to stereotype or make assumptions about people..
suggesting that religious and social decision making for humans, is not all genetically programmed.  To me  IQ or any other quotient, describes the effect of training on our genetic makeup.  That is also the fundamental origin of the limitations quoted above.

This analysis is exciting, because it allows an avenue to think of the problem of why science largely stays out of our society.  What forces people to read or hear about that bridge or whatever NASA imaged around North-west Sri Lanka and think of some religious fundamentalism and not realize that the thought process is 'unscientific'?

Although I do not agree with everything Kanazawa is arguing in The Scientific Fundamentalist, its worth retaining the link, basically because of the title of the blog.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Maybe, the reason we have such a hard time adapting to our machines as the instruments for controlling time, is that, our machines can't match our capabilities.  For example, one of the problems in machine learning is that, I can identify a picture of myself from a group of photos; a computer can't do that yet.  Its not so much that we do not like to conserve resources and maximize efficiency at the same time; it's just that very often, conserving resources becomes more important for survival.  Machines will evolve faster than us and therefore there will be a point in time when things will get nice.  

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fine arts for experimental science

Experimental researchers are all unique.  The problems are common, globally.  The broad structure of the solution is also common.  The way the solution is conceived is for the major part universal (pretty much everybody adheres to the same physical laws).  But then, demonstrating the solution requires entering a lab. 
The behavior of a person in the lab, depends on the connectivity of past experiences, i.e., how the experiences are being stored and related in memory and therefore the cues that are being setup to recall specific memories.
Conducting experiments, is then, a process of observing to identify the right cues. Observations may not always trigger cues in any one individual and often groups of people are necessary. We may even be aware of our triggers and therefore design the sequence of observations accordingly.  
This variable aspect of the process of conducting experiments, can also be described as intuition.  
What if, this intuition could be communicated?  Would the world have a lesser number of experimenters or would efficiency increase?
It is not difficult, to identify examples/experiences in almost every researcher's career, when several people were trying their hands on the same experiment and one answer emerges and this is true of the papers that get published everyday; the others were all partially right.  Agreeing that there's fun in this however does not discount the possibility that this societal behavior is being conserved.  Right now it appears that it has to be.
Two scientists, independently arriving at the same conclusion at the same time, resulting in back-to-back articles in Nature is therefore a big deal.
What doesn't add up is that, how can this gap in knowledge exist?
Intuition cannot be communicated.  But, can it be affected?  It would require the transmission of emotions, feelings.  Its like Bertrand Russell's example of the description of rain- when a poet describes it, for some its a drizzle for others its a shower, but its rain.  When a scientist describes it as H2O drops falling downwards, its not rain anymore.
Paintings I know are really good at expressing feelings.  And, the expression of emotions is one of the purposes of our social existance.  Could this then be why science has such a hard time integrating into our social fabric...

February 11, 2010

E. O. Wilson's name came up in another conversation.  Wanted to preserve this interview; plus it is in someways the bigger picture of what I was thinking here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The sickness of not knowing, part 5

Last month during the holidays, I took a shuttle home from the airport and there was another passenger sitting at the back.  The driver must have been exposed to another foreign culture and was making comments about other drivers on the road, some of which could be funny.  This other passenger, kept laughing, at every instance the silence in the cab was disturbed.  Eventually it was pretty clear that the passenger was having problems adjusting to behavior so heavily influenced by a foreign culture, but wasn’t disagreeable to the occasional humor and so was resorting to making the laugh-like noise.  My introductory Hi was replied by a high pitched ha..ha Hi..!  I was anticipating some ha..ha.. when the vehicle stopped in front of my place; there was none.  I purposely didn’t say anything while leaving just to check if it would result in a spontaneous ha..ha..bye; it didn’t. 
Around that time, I was reading Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, which was probably why I was a little bit too curious of these things.  Based on his observations, Darwin formulated three categories of expressions:
1) The perception of certain stimuli generates muscle movement;
2) Perception of the opposite stimuli generates the opposite movements;
In both of these, the muscle movement, which results in our expressions, may or may not be necessary, that is, these are habits, involuntary.
3) Sometimes, perception leads to expressions that do not involve muscles.
A small part of expressions is learnt, most of it is transmitted.  So if you decide something is funny and laughable, whether you want it or not, your facial muscles will move, like when you laugh. 
George Washington Crile in 1915 related these emotions to the energy transduction pathway between the various organs, in The Origin and Nature of Emotions.  His observations (once again meticulous considering the existing technology at that time and I wonder if these experiments have now been repeated using scanning probe microscopy) were that in animals exposed to various kinds of shocking emotions like anger, fear and even in surgical trauma, damage could be observed in the Brain, Kidney and Liver tissue.  Besides establishing that functionally these organs are dependent, he also proposed that conversion of potential energy to kinetic energy (motion and heat) was the common denominator in their functions.
Crile’s recording of body temperature(human body temperature was first systematically documented by Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich in 1861) was what I found most intriguing.  The diurnal variation of our body temperature (starts getting warm around 5am and starts cooling down around 7pm) is now known to be controlled by the superchiasmatic nucleus (SCN).  The SCN is also the main site receiving nerve signals from our eyes. 
I had been trying to find a link between the HPA axis and our visual signal processing pathway for quite sometime.