nhaliday + no-go   38

Applications of computational learning theory in the cognitive sciences - Psychology & Neuroscience Stack Exchange
1. Gold's theorem on the unlearnability in the limit of certain sets of languages, among them context-free ones.

2. Ronald de Wolf's master's thesis on the impossibility to PAC-learn context-free languages.

The first made quiet a stir in the poverty-of-the-stimulus debate, and the second has been unnoticed by cognitive science.
q-n-a  stackex  psychology  cog-psych  learning  learning-theory  machine-learning  PAC  lower-bounds  no-go  language  linguistics  models  fall-2015 
8 weeks ago by nhaliday
Complexity no Bar to AI - Gwern.net
Critics of AI risk suggest diminishing returns to computing (formalized asymptotically) means AI will be weak; this argument relies on a large number of questionable premises and ignoring additional resources, constant factors, and nonlinear returns to small intelligence advantages, and is highly unlikely. (computer science, transhumanism, AI, R)
created: 1 June 2014; modified: 01 Feb 2018; status: finished; confidence: likely; importance: 10
ratty  gwern  analysis  faq  ai  risk  speedometer  intelligence  futurism  cs  computation  complexity  tcs  linear-algebra  nonlinearity  convexity-curvature  average-case  adversarial  article  time-complexity  singularity  iteration-recursion  magnitude  multiplicative  lower-bounds  no-go  performance  hardware  humanity  psychology  cog-psych  psychometrics  iq  distribution  moments  complement-substitute  hanson  ems  enhancement  parable  detail-architecture  universalism-particularism  neuro  ai-control  environment  climate-change  threat-modeling  security  theory-practice  hacker  academia  realness  crypto  rigorous-crypto  usa  government 
april 2018 by nhaliday
If Quantum Computers are not Possible Why are Classical Computers Possible? | Combinatorics and more
As most of my readers know, I regard quantum computing as unrealistic. You can read more about it in my Notices AMS paper and its extended version (see also this post) and in the discussion of Puzzle 4 from my recent puzzles paper (see also this post). The amazing progress and huge investment in quantum computing (that I presented and update  routinely in this post) will put my analysis to test in the next few years.
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november 2017 by nhaliday
Where Has Progress Got Us? - NYTimes.com
THE TRUE AND ONLY HEAVEN Progress and Its Critics. By Christopher Lasch. 591 pp. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. $25.

reviewed by William Julius Wilson

Lower-middle-class culture, Mr. Lasch argues, reflects an emphasis on the family, the church and the neighborhood. A community's continuity is valued more highly than individual advancement, social solidarity is favored over social mobility and the maintenance of existing ways takes precedent over mainstream ideals of success. Parents want their children to succeed in life, but they also want them to be considerate of their elders, to willingly bear their responsibilities and to show courage under adversity. "More concerned with honor than with worldly ambition, they have less interest in the future than do upper-middle-class parents, who try to equip their children with the qualities required for competitive advancement."

Mr. Lasch acknowledges the provincialism and narrowness of lower-middle-class culture, and he does not deny that "it has produced racism, nativism, anti-intellectualism, and all the other evils so often cited by liberal critics." But, he maintains, in their zeal to condemn such objectionable traits, liberals have failed to see the valuable features of petty-bourgeois culture -- what he calls moral realism, skepticism about progress, respect for limits and understanding that everything has its price.
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october 2017 by nhaliday
Europa, Enceladus, Moon Miranda | West Hunter
A lot of ice moons seem to have interior oceans, warmed by tidal flexing and possibly radioactivity.  But they’re lousy candidates for life, because you need free energy; and there’s very little in the interior oceans of such system.

It is possible that NASA is institutionally poor at pointing this out.
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september 2017 by nhaliday
Correlated Equilibria in Game Theory | Azimuth
Given this, it’s not surprising that Nash equilibria can be hard to find. Last September a paper came out making this precise, in a strong way:

• Yakov Babichenko and Aviad Rubinstein, Communication complexity of approximate Nash equilibria.

The authors show there’s no guaranteed method for players to find even an approximate Nash equilibrium unless they tell each other almost everything about their preferences. This makes finding the Nash equilibrium prohibitively difficult to find when there are lots of players… in general. There are particular games where it’s not difficult, and that makes these games important: for example, if you’re trying to run a government well. (A laughable notion these days, but still one can hope.)

Klarreich’s article in Quanta gives a nice readable account of this work and also a more practical alternative to the concept of Nash equilibrium. It’s called a ‘correlated equilibrium’, and it was invented by the mathematician Robert Aumann in 1974. You can see an attempt to define it here:
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july 2017 by nhaliday
Predicting the outcomes of organic reactions via machine learning: are current descriptors sufficient? | Scientific Reports
As machine learning/artificial intelligence algorithms are defeating chess masters and, most recently, GO champions, there is interest – and hope – that they will prove equally useful in assisting chemists in predicting outcomes of organic reactions. This paper demonstrates, however, that the applicability of machine learning to the problems of chemical reactivity over diverse types of chemistries remains limited – in particular, with the currently available chemical descriptors, fundamental mathematical theorems impose upper bounds on the accuracy with which raction yields and times can be predicted. Improving the performance of machine-learning methods calls for the development of fundamentally new chemical descriptors.
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july 2017 by nhaliday
Genomic analysis of family data reveals additional genetic effects on intelligence and personality | bioRxiv
Using Extended Genealogy to Estimate Components of Heritability for 23 Quantitative and Dichotomous Traits: http://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1003520
Pedigree- and SNP-Associated Genetics and Recent Environment are the Major Contributors to Anthropometric and Cardiometabolic Trait Variation: http://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1005804

Missing Heritability – found?: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/02/09/missing-heritability-found/
There is an interesting new paper out on genetics and IQ. The claim is that they have found the missing heritability – in rare variants, generally different in each family.

Some of the variants, the ones we find with GWAS, are fairly common and fitness-neutral: the variant that slightly increases IQ confers the same fitness (or very close to the same) as the one that slightly decreases IQ – presumably because of other effects it has. If this weren’t the case, it would be impossible for both of the variants to remain common.

The rare variants that affect IQ will generally decrease IQ – and since pleiotropy is the norm, usually they’ll be deleterious in other ways as well. Genetic load.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/happy-families-are-all-alike-every-unhappy-family-is-unhappy-in-its-own-way/
It now looks as if the majority of the genetic variance in IQ is the product of mutational load, and the same may be true for many psychological traits. To the extent this is the case, a lot of human psychological variation must be non-adaptive. Maybe some personality variation fulfills an evolutionary function, but a lot does not. Being a dumb asshole may be a bug, rather than a feature. More generally, this kind of analysis could show us whether particular low-fitness syndromes, like autism, were ever strategies – I suspect not.

It’s bad new news for medicine and psychiatry, though. It would suggest that what we call a given type of mental illness, like schizophrenia, is really a grab-bag of many different syndromes. The ultimate causes are extremely varied: at best, there may be shared intermediate causal factors. Not good news for drug development: individualized medicine is a threat, not a promise.

see also comment at: https://pinboard.in/u:nhaliday/b:a6ab4034b0d0

So the big implication here is that it's better than I had dared hope - like Yang/Visscher/Hsu have argued, the old GCTA estimate of ~0.3 is indeed a rather loose lower bound on additive genetic variants, and the rest of the missing heritability is just the relatively uncommon additive variants (ie <1% frequency), and so, like Yang demonstrated with height, using much more comprehensive imputation of SNP scores or using whole-genomes will be able to explain almost all of the genetic contribution. In other words, with better imputation panels, we can go back and squeeze out better polygenic scores from old GWASes, new GWASes will be able to reach and break the 0.3 upper bound, and eventually we can feasibly predict 0.5-0.8. Between the expanding sample sizes from biobanks, the still-falling price of whole genomes, the gradual development of better regression methods (informative priors, biological annotation information, networks, genetic correlations), and better imputation, the future of GWAS polygenic scores is bright. Which obviously will be extremely helpful for embryo selection/genome synthesis.

The argument that this supports mutation-selection balance is weaker but plausible. I hope that it's true, because if that's why there is so much genetic variation in intelligence, then that strongly encourages genetic engineering - there is no good reason or Chesterton fence for intelligence variants being non-fixed, it's just that evolution is too slow to purge the constantly-accumulating bad variants. And we can do better.

The surprising implications of familial association in disease risk: https://arxiv.org/abs/1707.00014
As Greg Cochran has pointed out, this probably isn’t going to work. There are a few genes like BRCA1 (which makes you more likely to get breast and ovarian cancer) that we can detect and might affect treatment, but an awful lot of disease turns out to be just the result of random chance and deleterious mutation. This means that you can’t easily tailor disease treatment to people’s genes, because everybody is fucked up in their own special way. If Johnny is schizophrenic because of 100 random errors in the genes that code for his neurons, and Jack is schizophrenic because of 100 other random errors, there’s very little way to test a drug to work for either of them- they’re the only one in the world, most likely, with that specific pattern of errors. This is, presumably why the incidence of schizophrenia and autism rises in populations when dads get older- more random errors in sperm formation mean more random errors in the baby’s genes, and more things that go wrong down the line.

The looming crisis in human genetics: http://www.economist.com/node/14742737
Some awkward news ahead
- Geoffrey Miller

Human geneticists have reached a private crisis of conscience, and it will become public knowledge in 2010. The crisis has depressing health implications and alarming political ones. In a nutshell: the new genetics will reveal much less than hoped about how to cure disease, and much more than feared about human evolution and inequality, including genetic differences between classes, ethnicities and races.

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june 2017 by nhaliday
What is the likelihood we run out of fossil fuels before we can switch to renewable energy sources? - Quora
1) Can we de-carbon our primary energy production before global warming severely damages human civilization? In the short term this means switching from coal to natural gas, and in the long term replacing both coal and gas generation with carbon-neutral sources such as renewables or nuclear. The developed world cannot accomplish this alone -- it requires worldwide action, and most of the pain will be felt by large developing nations such as India and China. Ultimately this is a political and economic problem. The technology to eliminate most carbon from electricity generation exists today at fairly reasonable cost.

2) Can we develop a better transportation energy storage technology than oil, before market forces drive prices to levels that severely damage the global economy? Fossil fuels are a source of energy, but primarily we use oil in vehicles because it is an exceptional energy TRANSPORT medium. Renewables cannot meet this need because battery technology is completely uncompetitive for most fuel consumers -- prices are an order of magnitude too high and energy density is an order of magnitude too low for adoption of all-electric vehicles outside developed-world urban centers. (Heavy trucking, cargo ships, airplanes, etc will never be all-electric with chemical batteries. There are hard physical limits to the energy density of electrochemical reactions. I'm not convinced passenger vehicles will go all-electric in our lifetimes either.) There are many important technologies in existence that will gain increasing traction in the next 50 years such as natural gas automobiles and improved gas/electric hybrids, but ultimately we need a better way to store power than fossil fuels. _This is a deep technological problem that will not be solved by incremental improvements in battery chemistry or any process currently in the R&D pipeline_.

Based on these two unresolved issues, _I place the odds of us avoiding fossil-fuel-related energy issues (major climate or economic damage) at less than 10%_. The impetus for the major changes required will not be sufficiently urgent until the world is seeing severe and undeniable impacts. Civilization will certainly survive -- but there will be no small amount of human suffering during the transition to whatever comes next.

- Ryan Carlyle
q-n-a  qra  expert  energy-resources  climate-change  environment  risk  civilization  nihil  prediction  threat-modeling  world  futurism  biophysical-econ  stock-flow  transportation  technology  economics  long-short-run  no-go  speedometer  modernity  expert-experience 
may 2017 by nhaliday
Readings: The Gods of the Copybook Headings
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four —
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man —
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began: —
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
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april 2017 by nhaliday
Annotating Greg Cochran’s interview with James Miller
opinion of Scott and Hanson: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/#comment-90238
Greg's methodist: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/#comment-90256
You have to consider the relative strengths of Japan and the USA. USA was ~10x stronger, industrially, which is what mattered. Technically superior (radar, Manhattan project). Almost entirely self-sufficient in natural resources. Japan was sure to lose, and too crazy to quit, which meant that they would lose after being smashed flat.
There’s a fairly common way of looking at things in which the bad guys are not at fault because they’re bad guys, born that way, and thus can’t help it. Well, we can’t help it either, so the hell with them. I don’t think we had to respect Japan’s innate need to fuck everybody in China to death.

2nd part: https://pinboard.in/u:nhaliday/b:9ab84243b967

some additional things:
- political correctness, the Cathedral and the left (personnel continuity but not ideology/value) at start
- joke: KT impact = asteroid mining, every mass extinction = intelligent life destroying itself
- Alawites: not really Muslim, women liberated because "they don't have souls", ended up running shit in Syria because they were only ones that wanted to help the British during colonial era
- solution to Syria: "put the Alawites in NYC"
- Zimbabwe was OK for a while, if South Africa goes sour, just "put the Boers in NYC" (Miller: left would probably say they are "culturally incompatible", lol)
- story about Lincoln and his great-great-great-grandfather
- skepticism of free speech
- free speech, authoritarianism, and defending against the Mongols
- Scott crazy (not in a terrible way), LW crazy (genetics), ex.: polyamory
- TFP or microbio are better investments than stereotypical EA stuff
- just ban AI worldwide (bully other countries to enforce)
- bit of a back-and-forth about macroeconomics
- not sure climate change will be huge issue. world's been much warmer before and still had a lot of mammals, etc.
- he quite likes Pseudoerasmus
- shits on modern conservatism/Bret Stephens a bit

- mentions Japan having industrial base a tenth the size of the US's and no chance of winning WW2 around 11m mark
- describes himself as "fairly religious" around 20m mark
- 27m30s: Eisenhower was smart, read Carlyle, classical history, etc.

but was Nixon smarter?: https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2019/03/18/open-thread-03-18-2019/
The Scandals of Meritocracy. Virtue vs. competence. Would you rather have a boss who is evil but competent, or good but incompetent? The reality is you have to balance the two. Richard Nixon was probably smarter that Dwight Eisenhower in raw g, but Eisenhower was probably a better person.
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april 2017 by nhaliday
Interview Greg Cochran by Future Strategist

- IQ enhancement (somewhat apprehensive, wonder why?)
- ~20 years to CRISPR enhancement (very ballpark)
- cloning as an alternative strategy
- environmental effects on IQ, what matters (iodine, getting hit in the head), what doesn't (schools, etc.), and toss-ups (childhood/embryonic near-starvation, disease besides direct CNS-affecting ones [!])
- malnutrition did cause more schizophrenia in Netherlands (WW2) and China (Great Leap Forward) though
- story about New Mexico schools and his children (mostly grad students in physics now)
- clever sillies, weird geniuses, and clueless elites
- life-extension and accidents, half-life ~ a few hundred years for a typical American
- Pinker on Harvard faculty adoptions (always Chinese girls)
- parabiosis, organ harvesting
- Chicago economics talk
- Catholic Church, cousin marriage, and the rise of the West
- Gregory Clark and Farewell to Alms
- retinoblastoma cancer, mutational load, and how to deal w/ it ("something will turn up")
- Tularemia and Stalingrad (ex-Soviet scientist literally mentioned his father doing it)
- germ warfare, nuclear weapons, and testing each
- poison gas, Haber, nerve gas, terrorists, Japan, Syria, and Turkey
- nukes at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incirlik_Air_Base
- IQ of ancient Greeks
- history of China and the Mongols, cloning Genghis Khan
- Alexander the Great vs. Napoleon, Russian army being late for meetup w/ Austrians
- the reason why to go into Iraq: to find and clone Genghis Khan!
- efficacy of torture
- monogamy, polygamy, and infidelity, the Aboriginal system (reverse aging wives)
- education and twin studies
- errors: passing white, female infanticide, interdisciplinary social science/economic imperialism, the slavery and salt story
- Jewish optimism about environmental interventions, Rabbi didn't want people to know, Israelis don't want people to know about group differences between Ashkenazim and other groups in Israel
- NASA spewing crap on extraterrestrial life (eg, thermodynamic gradient too weak for life in oceans of ice moons)
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march 2017 by nhaliday
Futuristic Physicists? | Do the Math
interesting comment: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/outliers/#comment-23087
referring to timelines? or maybe also the jetpack+flying car (doesn't seem physically impossible; at most impossible for useful trip lengths)?

Topic Mean % pessim. median disposition
1. Autopilot Cars 1.4 (125 yr) 4 likely within 50 years
15. Real Robots 2.2 (800 yr) 10 likely within 500 years
13. Fusion Power 2.4 (1300 yr) 8 likely within 500 years
10. Lunar Colony 3.2 18 likely within 5000 years
16. Cloaking Devices 3.5 32 likely within 5000 years
20. 200 Year Lifetime 3.3 16 maybe within 5000 years
11. Martian Colony 3.4 22 probably eventually (>5000 yr)
12. Terraforming 4.1 40 probably eventually (> 5000 yr)
18. Alien Dialog 4.2 42 probably eventually (> 5000 yr)
19. Alien Visit 4.3 50 on the fence
2. Jetpack 4.1 64 unlikely ever
14. Synthesized Food 4.2 52 unlikely ever
8. Roving Astrophysics 4.6 64 unlikely ever
3. Flying “Cars” 3.9 60 unlikely ever
7. Visit Black Hole 5.1 74 forget about it
9. Artificial Gravity 5.3 84 forget about it
4. Teleportation 5.3 85 forget about it
5. Warp Drive 5.5 92 forget about it
6. Wormhole Travel 5.5 96 forget about it
17. Time Travel 5.7 92 forget about it
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march 2017 by nhaliday
Redistributing from Capitalists to Workers: An Impossibility Theorem, Garett Jones | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty
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february 2017 by nhaliday
6.896: Essential Coding Theory
- probabilistic method and Chernoff bound for Shannon coding
- probabilistic method for asymptotically good Hamming codes (Gilbert coding)
- sparsity used for LDPC codes
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february 2017 by nhaliday
Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » Why I Am Not An Integrated Information Theorist (or, The Unconscious Expander)
In my opinion, how to construct a theory that tells us which physical systems are conscious and which aren’t—giving answers that agree with “common sense” whenever the latter renders a verdict—is one of the deepest, most fascinating problems in all of science. Since I don’t know a standard name for the problem, I hereby call it the Pretty-Hard Problem of Consciousness. Unlike with the Hard Hard Problem, I don’t know of any philosophical reason why the Pretty-Hard Problem should be inherently unsolvable; but on the other hand, humans seem nowhere close to solving it (if we had solved it, then we could reduce the abortion, animal rights, and strong AI debates to “gentlemen, let us calculate!”).

Now, I regard IIT as a serious, honorable attempt to grapple with the Pretty-Hard Problem of Consciousness: something concrete enough to move the discussion forward. But I also regard IIT as a failed attempt on the problem. And I wish people would recognize its failure, learn from it, and move on.

In my view, IIT fails to solve the Pretty-Hard Problem because it unavoidably predicts vast amounts of consciousness in physical systems that no sane person would regard as particularly “conscious” at all: indeed, systems that do nothing but apply a low-density parity-check code, or other simple transformations of their input data. Moreover, IIT predicts not merely that these systems are “slightly” conscious (which would be fine), but that they can be unboundedly more conscious than humans are.

To justify that claim, I first need to define Φ. Strikingly, despite the large literature about Φ, I had a hard time finding a clear mathematical definition of it—one that not only listed formulas but fully defined the structures that the formulas were talking about. Complicating matters further, there are several competing definitions of Φ in the literature, including ΦDM (discrete memoryless), ΦE (empirical), and ΦAR (autoregressive), which apply in different contexts (e.g., some take time evolution into account and others don’t). Nevertheless, I think I can define Φ in a way that will make sense to theoretical computer scientists. And crucially, the broad point I want to make about Φ won’t depend much on the details of its formalization anyway.

We consider a discrete system in a state x=(x1,…,xn)∈Sn, where S is a finite alphabet (the simplest case is S={0,1}). We imagine that the system evolves via an “updating function” f:Sn→Sn. Then the question that interests us is whether the xi‘s can be partitioned into two sets A and B, of roughly comparable size, such that the updates to the variables in A don’t depend very much on the variables in B and vice versa. If such a partition exists, then we say that the computation of f does not involve “global integration of information,” which on Tononi’s theory is a defining aspect of consciousness.
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Stockpile Stewardship | West Hunter
A lot of our nuclear weapons are old, and it’s not clear that they still work. If we still did underground tests, we’d know for sure (and could fix any problems) – but we don’t do that. We have a program called stockpile stewardship, that uses simulation programs and the data from laser-fusion experiments in an attempt to predict weapon efficacy.

I talked to some old friends who know as much about the nuclear stockpile as anyone: neither believes that that stockpile stewardship will do the job. There are systems that you can simulate with essentially perfect accuracy and confidence, Newtonian gravitational mechanics for example: this isn’t one of them.

You had two approaches to a problem that was vital to the security of the United States: option A was absolutely sure to work, option B might possibly work.

The Feds picked B.

interesting: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/stockpile-stewardship/#comment-65553
Can’t they stick a warhead on a space launcher, loop it around the moon followed by some compact instrumentation and detonate it there, out of view? And keep mum about it.

How hard would it be for radioastronomers to notice a nuclear blast on the other side of the Moon? Would reflected light over interplanetary distances be even detectable?

I once brought this up to a bomb-designer friend: people have in fact worried about this.

They signed a treaty against that. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outer_Space_Treaty

The Soviets signed a treaty against developing germ warfare too, but they did it anyhow. Do you think that the Galactic Overlords automatically vaporize treaty violators?

People working in US intelligence may well have opinions, but they don’t know jack about nuclear weapons. I once said that Iraq couldn’t possibly have a live nuclear weapons program, given their lack of resources and the fact that we hadn’t detected any sign of it – in part, a ‘capacity’ argument. I later heard that the whole CIA had at most one guy who knew enough to do that casual, back-of-the-envelope analysis correctly, and he was working on something else.

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december 2016 by nhaliday
Science Policy | West Hunter
If my 23andme profile revealed that I was the last of the Plantagenets (as some suspect), and therefore rightfully King of the United States and Defender of Mexico, and I asked you for a general view of the right approach to science and technology – where the most promise is, what should be done, etc – what would you say?

genetically personalized medicine: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/12/08/science-policy/#comment-85698
I have no idea how personalized medicine is supposed to work. Suppose that we sequence your entire genome, and then we intend to tailor a therapeutic approach to your genome.

How do we test it? By trying it on a bunch of genetically similar people? The more genetic details we take into account, the smaller that class is. It could easily become so small that it would be difficult to recruit enough people for a reasonable statistical trial. Second, the more details we take into account, the smaller the class that benefits from the whole testing process – which as far as I can see, is just as expensive as conventional Phasei/II etc trials.

What am I missing?

Now if you are a forethoughtful trillionaire, sure: you manufacture lots of clones just to test therapies you might someday need, and cost is no object.

I think I can see ways you could make it work tho [edit: what did I mean by this?...damnit]
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december 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
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

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.

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.

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.

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
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

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