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Lateralization of brain function - Wikipedia
Language
Language functions such as grammar, vocabulary and literal meaning are typically lateralized to the left hemisphere, especially in right handed individuals.[3] While language production is left-lateralized in up to 90% of right-handers, it is more bilateral, or even right-lateralized, in approximately 50% of left-handers.[4]

Broca's area and Wernicke's area, two areas associated with the production of speech, are located in the left cerebral hemisphere for about 95% of right-handers, but about 70% of left-handers.[5]:69

Auditory and visual processing
The processing of visual and auditory stimuli, spatial manipulation, facial perception, and artistic ability are represented bilaterally.[4] Numerical estimation, comparison and online calculation depend on bilateral parietal regions[6][7] while exact calculation and fact retrieval are associated with left parietal regions, perhaps due to their ties to linguistic processing.[6][7]

...

Depression is linked with a hyperactive right hemisphere, with evidence of selective involvement in "processing negative emotions, pessimistic thoughts and unconstructive thinking styles", as well as vigilance, arousal and self-reflection, and a relatively hypoactive left hemisphere, "specifically involved in processing pleasurable experiences" and "relatively more involved in decision-making processes".

Chaos and Order; the right and left hemispheres: https://orthosphere.wordpress.com/2018/05/23/chaos-and-order-the-right-and-left-hemispheres/
In The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist writes that a creature like a bird needs two types of consciousness simultaneously. It needs to be able to focus on something specific, such as pecking at food, while it also needs to keep an eye out for predators which requires a more general awareness of environment.

These are quite different activities. The Left Hemisphere (LH) is adapted for a narrow focus. The Right Hemisphere (RH) for the broad. The brains of human beings have the same division of function.

The LH governs the right side of the body, the RH, the left side. With birds, the left eye (RH) looks for predators, the right eye (LH) focuses on food and specifics. Since danger can take many forms and is unpredictable, the RH has to be very open-minded.

The LH is for narrow focus, the explicit, the familiar, the literal, tools, mechanism/machines and the man-made. The broad focus of the RH is necessarily more vague and intuitive and handles the anomalous, novel, metaphorical, the living and organic. The LH is high resolution but narrow, the RH low resolution but broad.

The LH exhibits unrealistic optimism and self-belief. The RH has a tendency towards depression and is much more realistic about a person’s own abilities. LH has trouble following narratives because it has a poor sense of “wholes.” In art it favors flatness, abstract and conceptual art, black and white rather than color, simple geometric shapes and multiple perspectives all shoved together, e.g., cubism. Particularly RH paintings emphasize vistas with great depth of field and thus space and time,[1] emotion, figurative painting and scenes related to the life world. In music, LH likes simple, repetitive rhythms. The RH favors melody, harmony and complex rhythms.

...

Schizophrenia is a disease of extreme LH emphasis. Since empathy is RH and the ability to notice emotional nuance facially, vocally and bodily expressed, schizophrenics tend to be paranoid and are often convinced that the real people they know have been replaced by robotic imposters. This is at least partly because they lose the ability to intuit what other people are thinking and feeling – hence they seem robotic and suspicious.

Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West as well as McGilchrist characterize the West as awash in phenomena associated with an extreme LH emphasis. Spengler argues that Western civilization was originally much more RH (to use McGilchrist’s categories) and that all its most significant artistic (in the broadest sense) achievements were triumphs of RH accentuation.

The RH is where novel experiences and the anomalous are processed and where mathematical, and other, problems are solved. The RH is involved with the natural, the unfamiliar, the unique, emotions, the embodied, music, humor, understanding intonation and emotional nuance of speech, the metaphorical, nuance, and social relations. It has very little speech, but the RH is necessary for processing all the nonlinguistic aspects of speaking, including body language. Understanding what someone means by vocal inflection and facial expressions is an intuitive RH process rather than explicit.

...

RH is very much the center of lived experience; of the life world with all its depth and richness. The RH is “the master” from the title of McGilchrist’s book. The LH ought to be no more than the emissary; the valued servant of the RH. However, in the last few centuries, the LH, which has tyrannical tendencies, has tried to become the master. The LH is where the ego is predominantly located. In split brain patients where the LH and the RH are surgically divided (this is done sometimes in the case of epileptic patients) one hand will sometimes fight with the other. In one man’s case, one hand would reach out to hug his wife while the other pushed her away. One hand reached for one shirt, the other another shirt. Or a patient will be driving a car and one hand will try to turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction. In these cases, the “naughty” hand is usually the left hand (RH), while the patient tends to identify herself with the right hand governed by the LH. The two hemispheres have quite different personalities.

The connection between LH and ego can also be seen in the fact that the LH is competitive, contentious, and agonistic. It wants to win. It is the part of you that hates to lose arguments.

Using the metaphor of Chaos and Order, the RH deals with Chaos – the unknown, the unfamiliar, the implicit, the emotional, the dark, danger, mystery. The LH is connected with Order – the known, the familiar, the rule-driven, the explicit, and light of day. Learning something means to take something unfamiliar and making it familiar. Since the RH deals with the novel, it is the problem-solving part. Once understood, the results are dealt with by the LH. When learning a new piece on the piano, the RH is involved. Once mastered, the result becomes a LH affair. The muscle memory developed by repetition is processed by the LH. If errors are made, the activity returns to the RH to figure out what went wrong; the activity is repeated until the correct muscle memory is developed in which case it becomes part of the familiar LH.

Science is an attempt to find Order. It would not be necessary if people lived in an entirely orderly, explicit, known world. The lived context of science implies Chaos. Theories are reductive and simplifying and help to pick out salient features of a phenomenon. They are always partial truths, though some are more partial than others. The alternative to a certain level of reductionism or partialness would be to simply reproduce the world which of course would be both impossible and unproductive. The test for whether a theory is sufficiently non-partial is whether it is fit for purpose and whether it contributes to human flourishing.

...

Analytic philosophers pride themselves on trying to do away with vagueness. To do so, they tend to jettison context which cannot be brought into fine focus. However, in order to understand things and discern their meaning, it is necessary to have the big picture, the overview, as well as the details. There is no point in having details if the subject does not know what they are details of. Such philosophers also tend to leave themselves out of the picture even when what they are thinking about has reflexive implications. John Locke, for instance, tried to banish the RH from reality. All phenomena having to do with subjective experience he deemed unreal and once remarked about metaphors, a RH phenomenon, that they are “perfect cheats.” Analytic philosophers tend to check the logic of the words on the page and not to think about what those words might say about them. The trick is for them to recognize that they and their theories, which exist in minds, are part of reality too.

The RH test for whether someone actually believes something can be found by examining his actions. If he finds that he must regard his own actions as free, and, in order to get along with other people, must also attribute free will to them and treat them as free agents, then he effectively believes in free will – no matter his LH theoretical commitments.

...

We do not know the origin of life. We do not know how or even if consciousness can emerge from matter. We do not know the nature of 96% of the matter of the universe. Clearly all these things exist. They can provide the subject matter of theories but they continue to exist as theorizing ceases or theories change. Not knowing how something is possible is irrelevant to its actual existence. An inability to explain something is ultimately neither here nor there.

If thought begins and ends with the LH, then thinking has no content – content being provided by experience (RH), and skepticism and nihilism ensue. The LH spins its wheels self-referentially, never referring back to experience. Theory assumes such primacy that it will simply outlaw experiences and data inconsistent with it; a profoundly wrong-headed approach.

...

Gödel’s Theorem proves that not everything true can be proven to be true. This means there is an ineradicable role for faith, hope and intuition in every moderately complex human intellectual endeavor. There is no one set of consistent axioms from which all other truths can be derived.

Alan Turing’s proof of the halting problem proves that there is no effective procedure for finding effective procedures. Without a mechanical decision procedure, (LH), when it comes to … [more]
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september 2018 by nhaliday
Theological differences between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church - Wikipedia
Did the Filioque Ruin the West?: https://contingentnotarbitrary.com/2017/06/15/the-filioque-ruined-the-west/
The theology of the filioque makes the Father and the Son equal as sources of divinity. Flattening the hierarchy implicit in the Trinity does away with the Monarchy of the Father: the family relationship becomes less patriarchal and more egalitarian. The Son, with his humanity, mercy, love and sacrifice, is no longer subordinate to the Father, while the Father – the God of the Old Testament, law and tradition – is no longer sovereign. Looks like the change would elevate egalitarianism, compassion, humanity and self-sacrifice while undermining hierarchy, rules, family and tradition. Sound familiar?
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april 2018 by nhaliday
Contingent, Not Arbitrary | Truth is contingent on what is, not on what we wish to be true.
A vital attribute of a value system of any kind is that it works. I consider this a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for goodness. A value system, when followed, should contribute to human flourishing and not produce results that violate its core ideals. This is a pragmatic, I-know-it-when-I-see-it definition. I may refine it further if the need arises.

I think that the prevailing Western values fail by this standard. I will not spend much time arguing this; many others have already. If you reject this premise, this blog may not be for you.

I consider old traditions an important source of wisdom: they have proven their worth over centuries of use. Where they agree, we should listen. Where they disagree, we should figure out why. Where modernity departs from tradition, we should be wary of the new.

Tradition has one nagging problem: it was abandoned by the West. How and why did that happen? I consider this a central question. I expect the reasons to be varied and complex. Understanding them seems necessary if we are to fix what may have been broken.

In short, I want to answer these questions:

1. How do values spread and persist? An ideology does no good if no one holds it.
2. Which values do good? Sounding good is worse than useless if it leads to ruin.

The ultimate hope would be to find a way to combine the two. Many have tried and failed. I don’t expect to succeed either, but I hope I’ll manage to clarify the questions.

Christianity Is The Schelling Point: https://contingentnotarbitrary.com/2018/02/22/christianity-is-the-schelling-point/
Restoring true Christianity is both necessary and sufficient for restoring civilization. The task is neither easy nor simple but that’s what it takes. It is also our best chance of weathering the collapse if that’s too late to avoid.

Christianity is the ultimate coordination mechanism: it unites us with a higher purpose, aligns us with the laws of reality and works on all scales, from individuals to entire civilizations. Christendom took over the world and then lost it when its faith faltered. Historically and culturally, Christianity is the unique Schelling point for the West – or it would be if we could agree on which church (if any) was the true one.

Here are my arguments for true Christianity as the Schelling point. I hope to demonstrate these points in subsequent posts; for now I’ll just list them.

- A society of saints is the most powerful human arrangement possible. It is united in purpose, ideologically stable and operates in harmony with natural law. This is true independent of scale and organization: from military hierarchy to total decentralization, from persecuted minority to total hegemony. Even democracy works among saints – that’s why it took so long to fail.
- There is such a thing as true Christianity. I don’t know how to pinpoint it but it does exist; that holds from both secular and religious perspectives. Our task is to converge on it the best we can.
- Don’t worry too much about the existence of God. I’m proof that you don’t need that assumption in order to believe – it helps but isn’t mandatory.

Pascal’s Wager never sat right with me. Now I know why: it’s a sucker bet. Let’s update it.

If God exists, we must believe because our souls and civilization depend on it. If He doesn’t exist, we must believe because civilization depends on it.

Morality Should Be Adaptive: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/04/morals-should-be-adaptive.html
I agree with this
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april 2018 by nhaliday
Indiana Jones, Economist?! - Marginal REVOLUTION
In a stunningly original paper Gojko Barjamovic, Thomas Chaney, Kerem A. Coşar, and Ali Hortaçsu use the gravity model of trade to infer the location of lost cities from Bronze age Assyria! The simplest gravity model makes predictions about trade flows based on the sizes of cities and the distances between them. More complicated models add costs based on geographic barriers. The authors have data from ancient texts on trade flows between all the cities, they know the locations of some of the cities, and they know the geography of the region. Using this data they can invert the gravity model and, triangulating from the known cities, find the lost cities that would best “fit” the model. In other words, by assuming the model is true the authors can predict where the lost cities should be located. To test the idea the authors pretend that some known cities are lost and amazingly the model is able to accurately rediscover those cities.
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november 2017 by nhaliday
Of Mice and Men | West Hunter
It’s not always easy figuring out how a pathogen causes disease. There is an example in mice for which the solution was very difficult, so difficult that we would probably have failed to discover the cause of a similarly obscure infectious disease in humans.

Mycoplasma pulmonis causes a chronic obstructive lung disease in mice, but it wasn’t easy to show this. The disease was first described in 1915, and by 1940, people began to suspect Mycoplasma pulmonis might be the cause. But then again, maybe not. It was often found in mice that seemed healthy. Pure cultures of this organism did not consistently produce lung disease – which means that it didn’t satisfy Koch’s postulates, in particular postulate 1 (The microorganism must be found in abundance in all organisms suffering from the disease, but should not be found in healthy organisms.) and postulate 3 (The cultured microorganism should cause disease when introduced into a healthy organism.).

Well, those postulates are not logic itself, but rather a useful heuristic. Koch knew that, even if lots of other people don’t.

This respiratory disease of mice is long-lasting, but slow to begin. It can take half a lifetime – a mouse lifetime, that is – and that made finding the cause harder. It required patience, which means I certainly couldn’t have done it.

Here’s how they solved it. You can raise germ-free mice. In the early 1970s, researchers injected various candidate pathogens into different groups of germ-free mice and waited to see which, if any, developed this chronic lung disease. It was Mycoplasma pulmonis , all right, but it had taken 60 years to find out.

It turned out that susceptibility differed between different mouse strains – genetic susceptibility was important. Co-infection with other pathogens affected the course of the disease. Microenvironmental details mattered – mainly ammonia in cages where the bedding wasn’t changed often enough. But it didn’t happen without that mycoplasma, which was a key causal link, something every engineer understands but many MDs don’t.

If there was a similarly obscure infectious disease of humans, say one that involved a fairly common bug found in both the just and the unjust, one that took decades for symptoms to manifest – would we have solved it? Probably not.

Cooties are everywhere.

gay germ search: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/of-mice-and-men/#comment-15905
It’s hard to say, depends on how complicated the path of causation is. Assuming that I’m even right, of course. Some good autopsy studies might be fruitful – you’d look for microanatomical brain differences, as with nartcolepsy. Differences in gene expression, maybe. You could look for a pathogen – using the digital version of RDA (representational difference analysis), say on discordant twins. Do some old-fashioned epidemiology. Look for marker antibodies, signs of some sort of immunological event.

Do all of the above on gay rams – lots easier to get started, much less whining from those being vivisected.

Patrick Moore found the virus causing Kaposi’s sarcoma without any funding at all. I’m sure Peter Thiel could afford a serious try.
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september 2017 by nhaliday
Gnosticism - Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Voegelin#Voegelin_on_gnosticism

Faith and other Epistemic Categories: https://quaslacrimas.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/faith-and-other-epistemic-categories/
In response to Bonald’s excellent little piece Faith is honesty in doubt, I wanted to offer a parallel thesis (or, if you like, a friendly amendment): faith is a matter of whom, not what.

I can have faith in a man (I believe him). Maybe I have faith in him in a general sense, or maybe I have only heard him recite one particular narrative (in which case when I say I believe him I mean I have faith in that particular narrative). I can also have faith in groups and communities, and in their reports, publications, traditions, in the names they put forward as trustworthy authorities on certain questions, and so on.

Faith (or belief) is a matter of trust; fundamentally it is your confidence in the man that makes you confident his words will ring true. (Indeed, confidence is a Latin word meaning with faith.)

You can trust a man, or a group; you can always trust every word that comes out of his mouth, or just in one incident; you can trust him on account of his honesty, his accuracy, or both; you can trust him absolutely or only casually; but wherever you say you trust, the question whom it is that you trust arises. You can’t trust things, states of affairs, trees…

...

As Christians, we believe Christ and his Apostles. When Mr. Smith tells us something that conflicts with our Christian creed, we withhold our assent from Mr. Smith’s claims because we have greater faith in Christ than in Mr. Smith. If later on Mr. Thompson tells us something that conflicts with some other rumor we heard from Mr. Smith, this conflict will cause us to experience some uncertainty and confusion; but we will have a much more vivid understanding of what is going on if we have recently had some reason to reflect on Mr. Smith and how much (or how little) we trust him.

...

Perhaps we could say that this is the difference between faith and conviction. Conviction refers to something that you have been convinced is true (and only implicitly, if at all, to those who convinced you), whereas faith refers to someone you trust (and only implicitly to opinions you hold as a result of this trust). To restate a point using this new conceptual contrast: everyone has convictions, but a Christian has faith as well.

Faith and Gullibility: https://quaslacrimas.wordpress.com/2018/05/09/faith-and-gullibility/
But Chesterton’s point is in a certain sense a petty one to score: which of the trendy superstitions in circulation today is half as trendy as barren, godless materialism?

The vulgar errors of the plebs have actually become part of the metabolism of our godless society. As the Cathedral and its choirboys have gradually improved message-discipline on science and superstition (yes, they “freaking love science”), the contrast between the amusingly rustic ignorance of the commoners and the smug confidence of the overclass has become part of the status-structure that draws ambitious youngsters into the Cathedral’s cold embrace. Abandoning the poor to the torment of demons is now part of the Left’s plan; more room to tut-tut and demonstrate that you are a reasonable bugman, more misery to justify the next stage in the revolution.

But still, this fails to get at the root of the fairies and the séances and the horoscopes, which is neither faith’s relation to superstition, nor to the arrogance of those who lift themselves up above the superstitions they despise in others, but rather faith’s relation to gullibility.

Gullibility is a more general concept than superstition. Let us define superstition as gullibility with respect to opinions and possibilities that are held in contempt by the powerful, while gullibility itself is the epistemic equivalent of pettiness — an inability to dismiss highly improbable hypotheses.

...

Not because of any special piety or zeal, but simply because it was barely yesterday that I was an atheist, I had a vivid impression of the changes in my thinking process. It was not impossible that supernatural agency was involved, of course, but it was very implausible — because it seemed too trivial and indistinct to be worth the effort of a self-respecting angel. So I set that aside immediately, and stayed focused on thinking about what might actually be going on.

Putting aside the insignificant possibility lightened my mind almost in the way pouring water out of a jug would. I seem to remember that when I was an atheist confronting this type of “superstition”, I would keep the supernatural hypothesis in front of my mind, regulating my thoughts, considering the case from every angle but only from the perspective of what might disprove the superstitious opinion.

But a superstition is the opinion of a crackpot. Why was I worried about what crackpots believe? If Eddington has a hypothesis or Einstein has a hypothesis, then falsifying the hypothesis is science. Falsifying a crackpot’s hypothesis is proof that you place a low value on your time.

...

Here is another possibility: I don’t know why the appliance turns on when it does. I wasn’t able to figure it out. It would be odd if I could, since I’m not an electrician or an engineer. The world would be a boring place if you could just suss out the answer to arbitrarily unusual questions without making any special study of the topic. Sometimes we don’t know. And often when we don’t know we don’t care. In fact, most of the time we don’t care about what we don’t know precisely because the insignificance of the topic is the very reason we never prepared ourselves to answer that type of question in the first place.
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july 2017 by nhaliday
Gauge Transformation | West Hunter
Modern armies require enormous amounts of supply, mostly gas and ammo. In those days, supply mainly meant railroads. In Germany, and in most of Europe, the separation between the rails, the rail gauge,  was 1,435 mm (4ft 8 1/2 in).   So when the Germans invaded France, they could immediately make use of the French railnet.  In Russia, the Germans faced a problem: the gauge was different, 1528 mm (5 ft).  German locomotives could not use those tracks until they had been converted.  As Pravda used to say, this was no coincidence:  it is thought that the Czarist government made this choice for defensive reasons.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
INFECTIOUS CAUSATION OF DISEASE: AN EVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVE
A New Germ Theory: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1999/02/a-new-germ-theory/377430/
The dictates of evolution virtually demand that the causes of some of humanity's chronic and most baffling "noninfectious" illnesses will turn out to be pathogens -- that is the radical view of a prominent evolutionary biologist

A LATE-SEPTEMBER heat wave enveloped Amherst College, and young people milled about in shorts or sleeveless summer frocks, or read books on the grass. Inside the red-brick buildings framing the leafy quadrangle students listened to lectures on Ellison and Emerson, on Paul Verlaine and the Holy Roman Empire. Few suspected that strains of the organism that causes cholera were growing nearby, in the Life Sciences Building. If they had known, they would probably not have grasped the implications. But these particular strains of cholera make Paul Ewald smile; they are strong evidence that he is on the right track. Knowing the rules of evolutionary biology, he believes, can change the course of infectious disease.

https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/99feb/germ2.htm
I HAVE a motto," Gregory Cochran told me recently. "'Big old diseases are infectious.' If it's common, higher than one in a thousand, I get suspicious. And if it's old, if it has been around for a while, I get suspicious."

https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/99feb/germ3.htm
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february 2017 by nhaliday
Wizard War | West Hunter
Some of his successes were classically thin, as when he correctly analyzed the German two-beam navigation system (Knickebein). He realize that the area of overlap of two beams could be narrow, far narrower than suggested by the Rayleigh criterion.

During the early struggle with the Germans, the “Battle of the Beams”, he personally read all the relevant Enigma messages. They piled up on his desk, but he could almost always pull out the relevant message, since he remembered the date, which typewriter it had been typed on, and the kind of typewriter ribbon or carbon. When asked, he could usually pick out the message in question in seconds. This system was deliberate: Jones believed that the larger the field any one man could cover, the greater the chance of one brain connecting two facts – the classic approach to a ‘thick’ problem, not that anyone seems to know that anymore.

All that information churning in his head produced results, enough so that his bureaucratic rivals concluded that he had some special unshared source of information. They made at least three attempts to infiltrate his Section to locate this great undisclosed source. An officer from Bletchley Park was offered on a part-time basis with that secret objective. After a month or so he was called back, and assured his superiors that there was no trace of anything other than what they already knew. When someone asked ‘Then how does Jones do it? ‘ he replied ‘Well, I suppose, Sir, he thinks!’
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Not Final! | West Hunter
In mathematics we often prove that some proposition is true by showing that  the alternative is false.  The principle can sometimes work in other disciplines, but it’s tricky.  You have to have a very good understanding  to know that some things are impossible (or close enough to impossible).   You can do it fairly often in physics, less often in biology.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Epigenetics | West Hunter
more: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/back-by-popular-demand/

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/back-by-popular-demand/#comment-68170
It’s not a real theory, like saying that the wet spot on the kitchen floor is caused by a hole in the roof. All the implications of a real theory are taken seriously (like that hole in the roof will make it cold in the winter). In this kind of pseudo-theory, only the implications that you like exist.

Growing Pains for Field of Epigenetics as Some Call for Overhaul: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/02/science/epigenetic-marks-dna-genes.html
https://twitter.com/WiringTheBrain/status/773417464336187392
https://archive.is/RHuF2
For transgenerational epigenetic transmission of behaviour to occur in mammals, here's what would have to happen:

Inherited memories: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/inherited-memories/
In a recent paper in Nature Neuroscience, Dias and Ressler trained mice to fear the smell of acetophenone. They claim that this reaction was passed on to their offspring, and to the following generation.

I don’t believe a word of it. It would require a mechanism that takes the epigenetic states of genes in the brain, sends that information down to the testes, and then somehow imprints it on the germ cell precursors. And it would have to do this in a very special way, because many epigenetic changes that are the product of learning wouldn’t be the right thing at all during embryogenesis and development: somehow you’d have to pass timing information as well – info that says “methylate this sucker when you’re three weeks old, but not before”. Genes are like a recipe, but this patch would be more like a program. And it’d take a tnuctipun – or better – to prepare it.

According to the blurb at Nature, Kerry Ressler is a neurobiologist and psychiatrist at Emory University. In other words, he’s already a good deal more likely than average to be a flake. He became “interested in epigenetic inheritance after working with poor people living in inner cities, where cycles of drug addiction, neuropsychiatric illness and other problems often seem to recur in parents and their children. So he’s motivated. He’d like this to be true. Too bad.

We’re going to see more and more articles like this: people want to hear it. Tyler Cowen certainly does, but then he may not really be people. None of this research will ever be replicated by anyone careful and honest, but that has hardly stopped a flood of analogous nonsense in the social sciences – for example, how poverty reduces your IQ, unless your name is Abel or Ramanujan.

...

There are more things yet to be discovered than are dreamt of in our philosophy – but there’s even more bullshit. And that’s what this is.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Enigma | West Hunter
The modern consensus is that breaking Enigma shortened the war by at least a year.

Although a number of highly-placed people knew the story, some because they had been personally involved during WWII, the successful decryption of Enigma was kept secret until 1974, when F. W. Winterbotham published The Ultra Secret.

Most historians didn’t know about it. Without that information, the course of World War II can’t really have made sense. Why didn’t anyone notice?

various WW2 trivia in the comments/corrections

high school:
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/enigma/#comment-2417
They couldn’t hide an anomalous level of success. In fact, the Germans came to realize that the Allies had some kind of intelligence edge, but never managed to figure out what it was. When your opponent anticipates your moves, you must eventually notice.

Professional historians, after the war, don’t seem to have noticed anything anomalous. I find this revealing because _I_ noticed that things had gone weirdly smoothly while I was still in high school. I wrote an essay about it.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/subsocieties/#comment-86828
I wish I still had it around. I didn’t manage to guess how many rotors Enigma had, for sure. I only talked about how mysteriously well things had gone, didn’t know why. I remember the conclusion: God protects drunks, babies, and the United States of America.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Thick and thin | West Hunter
There is a spectrum of problem-solving, ranging from, at one extreme, simplicity and clear chains of logical reasoning (sometimes long chains) and, at the other, building a picture by sifting through a vast mass of evidence of varying quality. I will give some examples. Just the other day, when I was conferring, conversing and otherwise hobnobbing with my fellow physicists, I mentioned high-altitude lighting, sprites and elves and blue jets. I said that you could think of a thundercloud as a vertical dipole, with an electric field that decreased as the cube of altitude, while the breakdown voltage varied with air pressure, which declines exponentially with altitude. At which point the prof I was talking to said ” and so the curves must cross!”. That’s how physicists think, and it can be very effective. The amount of information required to solve the problem is not very large. I call this a ‘thin’ problem’.

...

In another example at the messy end of the spectrum, Joe Rochefort, running Hypo in the spring of 1942, needed to figure out Japanese plans. He had an an ever-growing mass of Japanese radio intercepts, some of which were partially decrypted – say, one word of five, with luck. He had data from radio direction-finding; his people were beginning to be able to recognize particular Japanese radio operators by their ‘fist’. He’d studied in Japan, knew the Japanese well. He had plenty of Navy experience – knew what was possible. I would call this a classic ‘thick’ problem, one in which an analyst needs to deal with an enormous amount of data of varying quality. Being smart is necessary but not sufficient: you also need to know lots of stuff.

...

Nimitz believed Rochefort – who was correct. Because of that, we managed to prevail at Midway, losing one carrier and one destroyer while the the Japanese lost four carriers and a heavy cruiser*. As so often happens, OP-20-G won the bureaucratic war: Rochefort embarrassed them by proving them wrong, and they kicked him out of Hawaii, assigning him to a floating drydock.

The usual explanation of Joe Rochefort’s fall argues that John Redman’s ( head of OP-20-G, the Navy’s main signals intelligence and cryptanalysis group) geographical proximity to Navy headquarters was a key factor in winning the bureaucratic struggle, along with his brother’s influence (Rear Admiral Joseph Redman). That and being a shameless liar.

Personally, I wonder if part of the problem is the great difficulty of explaining the analysis of a thick problem to someone without a similar depth of knowledge. At best, they believe you because you’ve been right in the past. Or, sometimes, once you have developed the answer, there is a ‘thin’ way of confirming your answer – as when Rochefort took Jasper Holmes’s suggestion and had Midway broadcast an uncoded complaint about the failure of their distillation system – soon followed by a Japanese report that ‘AF’ was short of water.

Most problems in the social sciences are ‘thick’, and unfortunately, almost all of the researchers are as well. There are a lot more Redmans than Rocheforts.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Megafaunal Extinctions | West Hunter
When competent human hunters encountered naive fauna, the biggest animals, things like mammoths and toxodons and diprotodons, all went extinct. It is not hard to see why this occurred. Large animals are more worth hunting than rabbits, and easier to catch, while having a far lower reproductive rate. Moreover, humans are not naturally narrow specialists on any one species, so are not limited by the abundance of that species in the way that the lynx population depends on the hare population. Being omnivores, they could manage even when the megafauna as a whole were becoming rare.

There were subtle factors at work as well: the first human colonists in a new land probably didn’t develop ethnic/language splits for some time, which meant that the no-mans-land zones between tribes that can act as natural game preserves didn’t exist in that crucial early period. Such game preserves might have allowed the megafauna to evolve better defenses against humans – but they never got the chance.

It happened in the Americas, in Australia, in New Zealand, in Madagascar, and in sundry islands. There is no reason to think that climate had much to do with it, except in the sense that climatic change may sometimes have helped open up a path to those virgin lands in which the hand of man had never set foot, via melting glaciers or low sea level.

I don’t know the numbers, but certainly a large fraction of archeologists and paleontologists, perhaps a majority, don’t believe that human hunters were responsible, or believe that hunting was only one of several factors. Donald Grayson and David Meltzer, for example. Why do they think this? In part I think it is an aversion to simple explanations, a reversal of Ockham’s razor, which is common in these fields. Of course then I have to explain why they would do such a silly thing, and I can’t. Probably some with these opinions are specialists in a particular geographic area, and do not appreciate the power of looking at multiple extinction events: it’s pretty hard to argue that the climate just happened to change whenever people showed when it happens five or six times.

It might be that belief in specialization is even more of a problem than specialization itself. Lots of time you have to gather insights and information from several fields to make progress on a puzzle. It seems to me that many researchers aren’t willing to learn much outside their field, even when it’s the only route to the answer. But then, maybe they can’t. I remember an anthropologist who could believe in humans rapidly filling up New Zealand, which is about the size of Colorado, but just couldn’t see how they could have managed to fill up a whole continent in a couple of thousand years. Evidently she didn’t understand geometric growth. She is not alone. I have see anthropologists argue [The revolution that wasn’t] that increased human density in ancient Africa was driven by the continent ‘finally getting full’, rather than increased intellectual abilities and resulting greater technological sophistication. That’s truly silly. Look, back in those days, technology changed slowly: you would hardly notice significant change over 50k years. Human populations grow far faster than that, given the chance. Imagine a population with three surviving children per couple, which is nothing special: it would grow by a factor of ten million in a thousand years. The average long-term growth rate was very low, but that is because the rate of increase in human capabilities, which determine the carrying capacity, was very slow – not because rapid population growth is difficult or impossible.

I could explain this to my 11-year old twins in five minutes, but I don’t know that I could ever explain it to Brooks and McBrearty.

various comments about climate change

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/megafaunal-extinctions/#comment-3039
Why do people act as if a slightly more habitable Greenland a millennium ago somehow disproves the statement that the world as a whole was cooler then than now? Motivated reasoning: they want a certain conclusion real bad. At this point it’s become an identifying tribal marker, like left-wingers believing in the innocence of Alger Hiss. And of course they’re mostly just repeating nonsense that some flack dreamed up. Many of the same people will mouth drivel about how a Finn and a Zulu could easily be genetically closer two each other than to other co-ethnics, which is never, ever, true.

When you think about it, falsehoods, stupid crap, make the best group identifiers, because anyone might agree with you when you’re obviously right. Signing up to clear nonsense is a better test of group loyalty. A true friend is with you when you’re wrong. Ideally, not just wrong, but barking mad, rolling around in your own vomit wrong. Movement conservatives have learned this lesson well.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/younger-dryas-meteorite/
It has been suggested that a large meteorite was responsible for an odd climatic twitch from about 12,800 to 11,500 years ago (the Younger Dryas , a temporary return to glacial conditions in the Northern Hemisphere) and for the extinction of the large mammals of North America. They hypothesize air bursts or impact of a swarm of meteors , centered around the Great Lakes. Probably this is all nonsense.

The topic of the Holocene extinction of megafauna seems to bring out the crazy in people. In my opinion, the people supporting this Younger Dryas impact hypothesis are nuts, and half of their opponents are nuts as well.

...

The problem for that meteorite explanation of North Ammerican megafaunal extinction is that South America had an even more varied set of megafauna (gomphotheriums, toxodonts, macrauchenia, glyptodonts, giant sloths, etc) and they went extinct around the same time (probably a few hundred years later). There’s no way for a hit around the Great Lakes to wipe out stuff in Patagonia, barring a huge, dinosaur-killer type hit that throws tremendous amount of debris into suborbital trajectories. But that would have hit the entire world… Didn’t happen.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/redlining/
If you take too many chances in the process of making a living, you’ll get yourself killed before you manage to raise a family. Therefore there is a maximum sustainable risk per calorie acquired from hunting *. If the average member of the species incurs too much risk, more than that sustainable maximum, the species goes extinct. The Neanderthals must have come closer to that red line than anatomically modern humans in Africa, judging from their beat-up skeletons, which resemble those of rodeo riders. They were almost entirely carnivorous, judging from isotopic studies, and that helps us understand all those fractures: they apparently had limited access to edible plants, which entail far lower risks. Tubers and berries seldom break your ribs.

...

Risk per calorie was particularly high among the Neanderthals because they seem to have had no way of storing meat – they had no drying racks or storage pits in frozen ground like those used by their successors. Think of it this way: storage allow more complete usage of a large carcass such as a bison, that might weigh over a thousand pounds – it wouldn’t be easy to eat all of that before it went bad. Higher utilization – using all of the buffalo – drops the risk per calorie.

You might think that they could have chased rabbits or whatever, but that is relatively unrewarding. It works a lot better if you can use nets or snares, but no evidence of such devices has been found among the Neanderthals.

It looks as if the Neanderthals had health insurance: surely someone else fed them while they were recovering from being hurt. You see the same pattern, to a degree, in lions, and it probably existed in sabertooths as well, since they often exhibit significant healed injuries.

...

So we can often understand the pattern, but why were mammoths rapidly wiped out in the Americas while elephants survived in Africa and south Asia? I offer several possible explanations. First, North American mammoths had no evolved behavioral defenses against man – while Old World elephants had had time to acquire such adaptations. That may have made hunting old world elephants far more dangerous, and therefore less attractive. Second, there are areas in Africa that are almost uninhabitable, due to the tsetse fly. They may have acted as natural game preserves, and there are no equivalents in the Americas. Third, the Babel effect: in the early days, paleoIndians likely had not yet split into different ethnic groups with different languages: with less fighting among the early Indians, animals would not have had relatively border regions acting as refugia. Also, with fewer human-caused casualties, paleoindians could have taken more risks in hunting.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/hunter-gatherer-fish-and-game-laws/
I don’t think that there are any. But then how did they manage to be one-with-the-land custodians of wildlife? Uh….

Conservation is hard. Even if the population as a whole would be better off if a given prey species persisted in fair numbers, any single individual would benefit from cheating – even from eating the very last mammoth.

More complicated societies, with private property and draconian laws against poaching, do better, but even they don’t show much success in preserving a tasty prey species over the long haul. Considers the aurochs, the wild ancestor of the cow. The Indian version seems to have been wiped out 4-5,000 years ago. The Eurasian version was still common in Roman times, but was rare by the 13th century, surviving only in Poland. Theoretically, only members of the Piast dynasty could hunt aurochsen – but they still went extinct in 1627.

How then did edible species survive in pre-state societies? I can think of several ways in which some species managed to survive … [more]
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Son of low-hanging fruit | West Hunter
You see, you can think of the thunderstorm, after a ground discharge, as a vertical dipole. Its electrical field drops as the cube of altitude. The threshold voltage for atmospheric breakdown is proportional to pressure, while pressure drops exponentially with altitude: and as everyone knows, a negative exponential drops faster than any power.

The curves must cross. Electrical breakdown occurs. Weird lightning, way above the clouds.

As I said, people reported sprites at least a hundred years ago, and they have probably been observed occasionally since the dawn of time. However, they’re far easier to see if you’re above the clouds – pilots often do.

Pilots also learned not to talk about it, because nobody listened. Military and commercial pilots have to pass periodic medical exams known as ‘flight physicals’, and there was a suspicion that reporting glowing red cephalopods in the sky might interfere with that. Generally, you had to see the things that were officially real (whether they were really real or not), and only those things.

Sprites became real when someone recorded one by accident on a fast camera in 1989. Since then it’s turned into a real subject, full of strangeness: turns out that thunderstorms sometimes generate gamma-rays and even antimatter.
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november 2016 by nhaliday
Noise: dinosaurs, syphilis, and all that | West Hunter
Generally speaking, I thought the paleontologists were a waste of space: innumerate, ignorant about evolution, and simply not very smart.

None of them seemed to understand that a sharp, short unpleasant event is better at causing a mass extinction, since it doesn’t give flora and fauna time to adapt.

Most seemed to think that gradual change caused by slow geological and erosion forces was ‘natural’, while extraterrestrial impact was not. But if you look at the Moon, or Mars, or the Kirkwood gaps in the asteroids, or think about the KAM theorem, it is apparent that Newtonian dynamics implies that orbits will be perturbed, and that sometimes there will be catastrophic cosmic collisions. Newtonian dynamics is as ‘natural’ as it gets: paleontologists not studying it in school and not having much math hardly makes it ‘unnatural’.

One of the more interesting general errors was not understanding how to to deal with noise – incorrect observations. There’s a lot of noise in the paleontological record. Dinosaur bones can be eroded and redeposited well after their life times – well after the extinction of all dinosaurs. The fossil record is patchy: if a species is rare, it can easily look as if it went extinct well before it actually did. This means that the data we have is never going to agree with a perfectly correct hypothesis – because some of the data is always wrong. Particularly true if the hypothesis is specific and falsifiable. If your hypothesis is vague and imprecise – not even wrong – it isn’t nearly as susceptible to noise. As far as I can tell, a lot of paleontologists [ along with everyone in the social sciences] think of of unfalsifiability as a strength.

Done Quickly: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/done-quickly/
I’ve never seen anyone talk about it much, but when you think about mass extinctions, you also have to think about rates of change

You can think of a species occupying a point in a many-dimensional space, where each dimension represents some parameter that influences survival and/or reproduction: temperature, insolation, nutrient concentrations, oxygen partial pressure, toxin levels, yada yada yada. That point lies within a zone of habitability – the set of environmental conditions that the species can survive. Mass extinction occurs when environmental changes are so large that many species are outside their comfort zone.

The key point is that, with gradual change, species adapt. In just a few generations, you can see significant heritable responses to a new environment. Frogs have evolved much greater tolerance of acidification in 40 years (about 15 generations). Some plants in California have evolved much greater tolerance of copper in just 70 years.

As this happens, the boundaries of the comfort zone move. Extinctions occur when the rate of environmental change is greater than the rate of adaptation, or when the amount of environmental change exceeds the limit of feasible adaptation. There are such limits: bar-headed geese fly over Mt. Everest, where the oxygen partial pressure is about a third of that at sea level, but I’m pretty sure that no bird could survive on the Moon.

...

Paleontologists prefer gradualist explanations for mass extinctions, but they must be wrong, for the most part.
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september 2016 by nhaliday
Coefficient of relationship - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
relatedness by consanguinity

Average percent DNA shared between relatives – 23andMe Customer Care: https://customercare.23andme.com/hc/en-us/articles/212170668-Average-percent-DNA-shared-between-relatives
summary of relatedness by consanguinity
shouldn't it be 2^-4 ~ 6% for first cousins?
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july 2016 by nhaliday
Math attic
includes a nice visualization of implications between properties of topological spaces
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march 2016 by nhaliday

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