nhaliday + discovery   86

The Long-run Effects of Agricultural Productivity on Conflict, 1400-1900∗
This paper provides evidence of the long-run effects of a permanent increase in agricultural productivity on conflict. We construct a newly digitized and geo-referenced dataset of battles in Europe, the Near East and North Africa covering the period between 1400 and 1900 CE. For variation in permanent improvements in agricultural productivity, we exploit the introduction of potatoes from the Americas to the Old World after the Columbian Exchange. We find that the introduction of potatoes permanently reduced conflict for roughly two centuries. The results are driven by a reduction in civil conflicts

#4 An obvious counterfactual is of course the potato blight (1844 and beyond) in Europe. Here’s the Wikipedia page ‘revolutions of 1848’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutions_of_1848
pdf  study  marginal-rev  economics  broad-econ  cliometrics  history  medieval  early-modern  age-of-discovery  branches  innovation  discovery  agriculture  food  econ-productivity  efficiency  natural-experiment  europe  the-great-west-whale  MENA  war  revolution  peace-violence  trivia  cocktail  stylized-facts  usa  endogenous-exogenous  control  geography  cost-benefit  multi  econotariat  links  poast  wiki  reference  events  roots 
december 2017 by nhaliday
Lynn Margulis | West Hunter
Margulis went on to theorize that symbiotic relationships between organisms are the dominant driving force of evolution. There certainly are important examples of this: as far as I know, every complex organism that digests cellulose manages it thru a symbiosis with various prokaryotes. Many organisms with a restricted diet have symbiotic bacteria that provide essential nutrients – aphids, for example. Tall fescue, a popular turf grass on golf courses, carries an endosymbiotic fungus. And so on, and on on.

She went on to oppose neodarwinism, particularly rejecting inter-organismal competition (and population genetics itself). From Wiki: [ She also believed that proponents of the standard theory “wallow in their zoological, capitalistic, competitive, cost-benefit interpretation of Darwin – having mistaken him… Neo-Darwinism, which insists on [the slow accrual of mutations by gene-level natural selection], is in a complete funk.”[8] ‘


You might think that Lynn Margulis is an example of someone that could think outside the box because she’d never even been able to find it in the first place – but that’s more true of autistic types [like Dirac or Turing], which I doubt she was in any way. I’d say that some traditional prejudices [dislike of capitalism and individual competition], combined with the sort of general looniness that leaves one open to unconventional ideas, drove her in a direction that bore fruit, more or less by coincidence. A successful creative scientist does not have to be right about everything, or indeed about much of anything: they need to contribute at least one new, true, and interesting thing.

“A successful creative scientist does not have to be right about everything, or indeed about much of anything: they need to contribute at least one new, true, and interesting thing.” Yes – it’s like old bands. As long as they have just one song in heavy rotation on the classic rock stations, they can tour endlessly – it doesn’t matter that they have only one or even no original members performing. A scientific example of this phenomena is Kary Mullins. He’ll always have PCR, even if a glowing raccoon did greet him with the words, “Good evening, Doctor.”

Nobel Savage: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n13/steven-shapin/nobel-savage
Dancing Naked in the Mind Field by Kary Mullis

jet fuel can't melt steel beams: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/lynn-margulis/#comment-98201
You have to understand a subject extremely well to make arguments why something couldn’t have happened. The easiest cases involve some purported explanation violating a conservation law of physics: that wasn’t the case here.

Do I think you’re a hotshot, deeply knowledgeable about structural engineering, properties of materials, using computer models, etc? A priori, pretty unlikely. What are the odds that you know as much simple mechanics as I do? a priori, still pretty unlikely. Most likely, you’re talking through your hat.

Next, the conspiracy itself is unlikely: quite a few people would be involved – unlikely that none of them would talk. It’s not that easy to find people that would go along with such a thing, believe it or not. The Communists were pretty good at conspiracy, but people defected, people talked: not just Whittaker Chambers, not just Igor Gouzenko.
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november 2017 by nhaliday
[1509.02504] Electric charge in hyperbolic motion: The early history and other geometrical aspects
We revisit the early work of Minkowski and Sommerfeld concerning hyperbolic motion, and we describe some geometrical aspects of the electrodynamic interaction. We discuss the advantages of a time symmetric formulation in which the material points are replaced by infinitesimal length elements.

SPACE AND TIME: An annotated, illustrated edition of Hermann Minkowski's revolutionary essay: http://web.mit.edu/redingtn/www/netadv/SP20130311.html
nibble  preprint  papers  org:mat  physics  electromag  relativity  exposition  history  mostly-modern  pre-ww2  science  the-trenches  discovery  intricacy  classic  explanation  einstein  giants  plots  manifolds  article  multi  liner-notes  org:junk  org:edu  absolute-relative 
november 2017 by nhaliday
Karl Pearson and the Chi-squared Test
Pearson's paper of 1900 introduced what subsequently became known as the chi-squared test of goodness of fit. The terminology and allusions of 80 years ago create a barrier for the modern reader, who finds that the interpretation of Pearson's test procedure and the assessment of what he achieved are less than straightforward, notwithstanding the technical advances made since then. An attempt is made here to surmount these difficulties by exploring Pearson's relevant activities during the first decade of his statistical career, and by describing the work by his contemporaries and predecessors which seem to have influenced his approach to the problem. Not all the questions are answered, and others remain for further study.

original paper: http://www.economics.soton.ac.uk/staff/aldrich/1900.pdf

How did Karl Pearson come up with the chi-squared statistic?: https://stats.stackexchange.com/questions/97604/how-did-karl-pearson-come-up-with-the-chi-squared-statistic
He proceeds by working with the multivariate normal, and the chi-square arises as a sum of squared standardized normal variates.

You can see from the discussion on p160-161 he's clearly discussing applying the test to multinomial distributed data (I don't think he uses that term anywhere). He apparently understands the approximate multivariate normality of the multinomial (certainly he knows the margins are approximately normal - that's a very old result - and knows the means, variances and covariances, since they're stated in the paper); my guess is that most of that stuff is already old hat by 1900. (Note that the chi-squared distribution itself dates back to work by Helmert in the mid-1870s.)

Then by the bottom of p163 he derives a chi-square statistic as "a measure of goodness of fit" (the statistic itself appears in the exponent of the multivariate normal approximation).

He then goes on to discuss how to evaluate the p-value*, and then he correctly gives the upper tail area of a χ212χ122 beyond 43.87 as 0.000016. [You should keep in mind, however, that he didn't correctly understand how to adjust degrees of freedom for parameter estimation at that stage, so some of the examples in his papers use too high a d.f.]
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october 2017 by nhaliday
The Water-Crossers | West Hunter
One interesting and puzzling question is when and how humans developed the ability to make ocean crossings.

Baby Steps: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/07/20/baby-steps/
west-hunter  scitariat  discussion  ideas  sapiens  migration  spreading  world  oceans  anglo  history  antiquity  time  multi  usa  discovery  innovation  roots  archaeology  speculation 
october 2017 by nhaliday
Early History of Electricity and Magnetism
The ancient Greeks also knew about magnets. They noted that on rare occasions "lodestones" were found in nature, chunks of iron-rich ore with the puzzling ability to attract iron. Some were discovered near the city of Magnesia (now in Turkey), and from there the words "magnetism" and "magnet" entered the language. The ancient Chinese discovered lodestones independently, and in addition found that after a piece of steel was "touched to a lodestone" it became a magnet itself.'


One signpost of the new era was the book "De Magnete" (Latin for "On the Magnet") published in London in 1600 by William Gilbert, a prominent medical doctor and (after 1601) personal physician to Queen Elizabeth I. Gilbert's great interest was in magnets and the strange directional properties of the compass needle, always pointing close to north-south. He correctly traced the reason to the globe of the Earth being itself a giant magnet, and demonstrated his explanation by moving a small compass over the surface of a lodestone trimmed to a sphere (or supplemented to spherical shape by iron attachments?)--a scale model he named "terrella" or "little Earth," on which he was able to duplicate all the directional properties of the compass. (here and here)
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september 2017 by nhaliday
Fermat's Library | Cassini, Rømer and the velocity of light annotated/explained version.
Abstract: The discovery of the finite nature of the velocity of light is usually attributed to Rømer. However, a text at the Paris Observatory confirms the minority opinion according to which Cassini was first to propose the ‘successive motion’ of light, while giving a rather correct order of magnitude for the duration of its propagation from the Sun to the Earth. We examine this question, and discuss why, in spite of the criticisms of Halley, Cassini abandoned this hypothesis while leaving Rømer free to publish it.
liner-notes  papers  essay  history  early-modern  europe  the-great-west-whale  giants  the-trenches  mediterranean  nordic  science  innovation  discovery  physics  electromag  space  speed  nibble  org:sci  org:mat 
september 2017 by nhaliday
Why was the Catholic Church so opposed to heliocentrism (for example, in the Renaissance)? Why did they not simply claim that God lived in the Sun, so we go around Him? - Quora
The main reason the Catholic Church opposed the teaching of heliocentrism as a fact was that it was contrary to the science of the time.

Amongst the modern myths about early science is the persistent idea that the opposition to heliocentrism was one of "science" versus "religion". According to this story, early modern astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo "proved" the earth went around the sun and the other scientists of the time agreed. But the Catholic Church clung to a literal interpretation of the Bible and rejected this idea purely out of a fanatical faith, insisting that the earth had to be the centre of the cosmos because man was the pinnacle of all creation. Pretty much everything in this popular story is wrong.
q-n-a  qra  history  medieval  europe  the-great-west-whale  science  the-trenches  discovery  giants  mediterranean  religion  christianity  protestant-catholic  theos  being-right  physics  mechanics  space  iron-age  the-classics  censorship 
september 2017 by nhaliday
During the Renaissance, the focus, especially in the arts, was on representing as accurately as possible the real world whether on a 2 dimensional surface or a solid such as marble or granite. This required two things. The first was new methods for drawing or painting, e.g., perspective. The second, relevant to this topic, was careful observation.

With the spread of cannon in warfare, the study of projectile motion had taken on greater importance, and now, with more careful observation and more accurate representation, came the realization that projectiles did not move the way Aristotle and his followers had said they did: the path of a projectile did not consist of two consecutive straight line components but was instead a smooth curve. [1]

Now someone needed to come up with a method to determine if there was a special curve a projectile followed. But measuring the path of a projectile was not easy.

Using an inclined plane, Galileo had performed experiments on uniformly accelerated motion, and he now used the same apparatus to study projectile motion. He placed an inclined plane on a table and provided it with a curved piece at the bottom which deflected an inked bronze ball into a horizontal direction. The ball thus accelerated rolled over the table-top with uniform motion and then fell off the edge of the table Where it hit the floor, it left a small mark. The mark allowed the horizontal and vertical distances traveled by the ball to be measured. [2]

By varying the ball's horizontal velocity and vertical drop, Galileo was able to determine that the path of a projectile is parabolic.


Galileo's Discovery of the Parabolic Trajectory: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24949756

Galileo's Experimental Confirmation of Horizontal Inertia: Unpublished Manuscripts (Galileo
Gleanings XXII): https://sci-hub.tw/https://www.jstor.org/stable/229718
- Drake Stillman

MORE THAN A DECADE HAS ELAPSED since Thomas Settle published a classic paper in which Galileo's well-known statements about his experiments on inclined planes were completely vindicated.' Settle's paper replied to an earlier attempt by Alexandre Koyre to show that Galileo could not have obtained the results he claimed in his Two New Sciences by actual observations using the equipment there described. The practical ineffectiveness of Settle's painstaking repetition of the experiments in altering the opinion of historians of science is only too evident. Koyre's paper was reprinted years later in book form without so much as a note by the editors concerning Settle's refutation of its thesis.2 And the general literature continues to belittle the role of experiment in Galileo's physics.

More recently James MacLachlan has repeated and confirmed a different experiment reported by Galileo-one which has always seemed highly exaggerated and which was also rejected by Koyre with withering sarcasm.3 In this case, however, it was accuracy of observation rather than precision of experimental data that was in question. Until now, nothing has been produced to demonstrate Galileo's skill in the design and the accurate execution of physical experiment in the modern sense.

Pant of a page of Galileo's unpublished manuscript notes, written late in 7608, corroborating his inertial assumption and leading directly to his discovery of the parabolic trajectory. (Folio 1 16v Vol. 72, MSS Galileiani; courtesy of the Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze.)


(The same skeptical historians, however, believe that to show that Galileo could have used the medieval mean-speed theorem suffices to prove that he did use it, though it is found nowhere in his published or unpublished writings.)


Now, it happens that among Galileo's manuscript notes on motion there are many pages that were not published by Favaro, since they contained only calculations or diagrams without attendant propositions or explanations. Some pages that were published had first undergone considerable editing, making it difficult if not impossible to discern their full significance from their printed form. This unpublished material includes at least one group of notes which cannot satisfactorily be accounted for except as representing a series of experiments designed to test a fundamental assumption, which led to a new, important discovery. In these documents precise empirical data are given numerically, comparisons are made with calculated values derived from theory, a source of discrepancy from still another expected result is noted, a new experiment is designed to eliminate this, and further empirical data are recorded. The last-named data, although proving to be beyond Galileo's powers of mathematical analysis at the time, when subjected to modern analysis turn out to be remarkably precise. If this does not represent the experimental process in its fully modern sense, it is hard to imagine what standards historians require to be met.

The discovery of these notes confirms the opinion of earlier historians. They read only Galileo's published works, but did so without a preconceived notion of continuity in the history of ideas. The opinion of our more sophisticated colleagues has its sole support in philosophical interpretations that fit with preconceived views of orderly long-term scientific development. To find manuscript evidence that Galileo was at home in the physics laboratory hardly surprises me. I should find it much more astonishing if, by reasoning alone, working only from fourteenth-century theories and conclusions, he had continued along lines so different from those followed by profound philosophers in earlier centuries. It is to be hoped that, warned by these examples, historians will begin to restore the old cautionary clauses in analogous instances in which scholarly opinions are revised without new evidence, simply to fit historical theories.

In what follows, the newly discovered documents are presented in the context of a hypothetical reconstruction of Galileo's thought.


As early as 1590, if we are correct in ascribing Galileo's juvenile De motu to that date, it was his belief that an ideal body resting on an ideal horizontal plane could be set in motion by a force smaller than any previously assigned force, however small. By "horizontal plane" he meant a surface concentric with the earth but which for reasonable distances would be indistinguishable from a level plane. Galileo noted at the time that experiment did not confirm this belief that the body could be set in motion by a vanishingly small force, and he attributed the failure to friction, pressure, the imperfection of material surfaces and spheres, and the departure of level planes from concentricity with the earth.5

It followed from this belief that under ideal conditions the motion so induced would also be perpetual and uniform. Galileo did not mention these consequences until much later, and it is impossible to say just when he perceived them. They are, however, so evident that it is safe to assume that he saw them almost from the start. They constitute a trivial case of the proposition he seems to have been teaching before 1607-that a mover is required to start motion, but that absence of resistance is then sufficient to account for its continuation.6

In mid-1604, following some investigations of motions along circular arcs and motions of pendulums, Galileo hit upon the law that in free fall the times elapsed from rest are as the smaller distance is to the mean proportional between two distances fallen.7 This gave him the times-squared law as well as the rule of odd numbers for successive distances and speeds in free fall. During the next few years he worked out a large number of theorems relating to motion along inclined planes, later published in the Two New Sciences. He also arrived at the rule that the speed terminating free fall from rest was double the speed of the fall itself. These theorems survive in manuscript notes of the period 1604-1609. (Work during these years can be identified with virtual certainty by the watermarks in the paper used, as I have explained elsewhere.8)

In the autumn of 1608, after a summer at Florence, Galileo seems to have interested himself in the question whether the actual slowing of a body moving horizontally followed any particular rule. On folio 117i of the manuscripts just mentioned, the numbers 196, 155, 121, 100 are noted along the horizontal line near the middle of the page (see Fig. 1). I believe that this was the first entry on this leaf, for reasons that will appear later, and that Galileo placed his grooved plane in the level position and recorded distances traversed in equal times along it. Using a metronome, and rolling a light wooden ball about 4 3/4 inches in diameter along a plane with a groove 1 3/4 inches wide, I obtained similar relations over a distance of 6 feet. The figures obtained vary greatly for balls of different materials and weights and for greatly different initial speeds.9 But it suffices for my present purposes that Galileo could have obtained the figures noted by observing the actual deceleration of a ball along a level plane. It should be noted that the watermark on this leaf is like that on folio 116, to which we shall come presently, and it will be seen later that the two sheets are closely connected in time in other ways as well.

The relatively rapid deceleration is obviously related to the contact of ball and groove. Were the ball to roll right off the end of the plane, all resistance to horizontal motion would be virtually removed. If, then, there were any way to have a given ball leave the plane at different speeds of which the ratios were known, Galileo's old idea that horizontal motion would continue uniformly in the absence of resistance could be put to test. His law of free fall made this possible. The ratios of speeds could be controlled by allowing the ball to fall vertically through known heights, at the ends of which it would be deflected horizontally. Falls through given heights … [more]
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Isaac Newton: the first physicist.
[...] More fundamentally, Newton's mathematical approach has become so basic to all of physics that he is generally regarded as _the father of the clockwork universe_: the first, and perhaps the greatest, physicist.

The Alchemist

In fact, Newton was deeply opposed to the mechanistic conception of the world. A secretive alchemist [...]. His written work on the subject ran to more than a million words, far more than he ever produced on calculus or mechanics [21]. Obsessively religious, he spent years correlating biblical prophecy with historical events [319ff]. He became deeply convinced that Christian doctrine had been deliberately corrupted by _the false notion of the trinity_, and developed a vicious contempt for conventional (trinitarian) Christianity and for Roman Catholicism in particular [324]. [...] He believed that God mediated the gravitational force [511](353), and opposed any attempt to give a mechanistic explanation of chemistry or gravity, since that would diminish the role of God [646]. He consequently conceived such _a hatred of Descartes_, on whose foundations so many of his achievements were built, that at times _he refused even to write his name_ [399,401].

The Man

Newton was rigorously puritanical: when one of his few friends told him "a loose story about a nun", he ended their friendship (267). [...] He thought of himself as the sole inventor of the calculus, and hence the greatest mathematician since the ancients, and left behind a huge corpus of unpublished work, mostly alchemy and biblical exegesis, that he believed future generations would appreciate more than his own (199,511).

[...] Even though these unattractive qualities caused him to waste huge amounts of time and energy in ruthless vendettas against colleagues who in many cases had helped him (see below), they also drove him to the extraordinary achievements for which he is still remembered. And for all his arrogance, Newton's own summary of his life (574) was beautifully humble:

"I do not know how I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy, playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself, in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

Before Newton


1. Calculus. Descartes, in 1637, pioneered the use of coordinates to turn geometric problems into algebraic ones, a method that Newton was never to accept [399]. Descartes, Fermat, and others investigated methods of calculating the tangents to arbitrary curves [28-30]. Kepler, Cavalieri, and others used infinitesimal slices to calculate volumes and areas enclosed by curves [30], but no unified treatment of these problems had yet been found.
2. Mechanics & Planetary motion. The elliptical orbits of the planets having been established by Kepler, Descartes proposed the idea of a purely mechanical heliocentric universe, following deterministic laws, and with no need of any divine agency [15], another anathema to Newton. _No one imagined, however, that a single law might explain both falling bodies and planetary motion_. Galileo invented the concept of inertia, anticipating Newton's first and second laws of motion (293), and Huygens used it to analyze collisions and circular motion [11]. Again, these pieces of progress had not been synthesized into a general method for analyzing forces and motion.
3. Light. Descartes claimed that light was a pressure wave, Gassendi that it was a stream of particles (corpuscles) [13]. As might be guessed, Newton vigorously supported the corpuscular theory. _White light was universally believed to be the pure form_, and colors were some added property bequeathed to it upon reflection from matter (150). Descartes had discovered the sine law of refraction (94), but it was not known that some colors were refracted more than others. The pattern was the familiar one: many pieces of the puzzle were in place, but the overall picture was still unclear.

The Natural Philosopher

Between 1671 and 1690, Newton was to supply definitive treatments of most of these problems. By assiduous experimentation with prisms he established that colored light was actually fundamental, and that it could be recombined to create white light. He did not publish the result for 6 years, by which time it seemed so obvious to him that he found great difficulty in responding patiently to the many misunderstandings and objections with which it met [239ff].

He invented differential and integral calculus in 1665-6, but failed to publish it. Leibniz invented it independently 10 years later, and published it first [718]. This resulted in a priority dispute which degenerated into a feud characterized by extraordinary dishonesty and venom on both sides (542).

In discovering gravitation, Newton was also _barely ahead of the rest of the pack_. Hooke was the first to realize that orbital motion was produced by a centripetal force (268), and in 1679 _he suggested an inverse square law to Newton_ [387]. Halley and Wren came to the same conclusion, and turned to Newton for a proof, which he duly supplied [402]. Newton did not stop there, however. From 1684 to 1687 he worked continuously on a grand synthesis of the whole of mechanics, the "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica," in which he developed his three laws of motion and showed in detail that the universal force of gravitation could explain the fall of an apple as well as the precise motions of planets and comets.

The "Principia" crystallized the new conceptions of force and inertia that had gradually been emerging, and marks the beginning of theoretical physics as the mathematical field that we know today. It is not an easy read: Newton had developed the idea that geometry and equations should never be combined [399], and therefore _refused to use simple analytical techniques in his proofs_, requiring classical geometric constructions instead [428]. He even made his Principia _deliberately abstruse in order to discourage amateurs from feeling qualified to criticize it_ [459].

[...] most of the rest of his life was spent in administrative work as Master of the Mint and as President of the Royal Society, _a position he ruthlessly exploited in the pursuit of vendettas_ against Hooke (300ff,500), Leibniz (510ff), and Flamsteed (490,500), among others. He kept secret his disbelief in Christ's divinity right up until his dying moment, at which point he refused the last rites, at last openly defying the church (576). [...]
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Introduction to Scaling Laws

Galileo’s Discovery of Scaling Laws: https://www.mtholyoke.edu/~mpeterso/classes/galileo/scaling8.pdf
Days 1 and 2 of Two New Sciences

An example of such an insight is “the surface of a small solid is comparatively greater than that of a large one” because the surface goes like the square of a linear dimension, but the volume goes like the cube.5 Thus as one scales down macroscopic objects, forces on their surfaces like viscous drag become relatively more important, and bulk forces like weight become relatively less important. Galileo uses this idea on the First Day in the context of resistance in free fall, as an explanation for why similar objects of different size do not fall exactly together, but the smaller one lags behind.
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Low-Hanging Fruit: Nyekulturny | West Hunter
The methodology is what’s really interesting.  Kim Lewis and Slava Epstein sorted individual soil bacteria into chambers of a device they call the iChip, which is then buried in the ground – the point being that something like 98% of soil bacteria cannot be cultured in standard media, while in this approach, key compounds (whatever they are) can diffuse in from the soil, allowing something like 50% of soil bacteria species to grow.  They then tested the bacterial colonies (10,000 of them) to see if any slammed S. aureus – and some did.


I could be wrong, but I wonder if part of the explanation is that microbiology – the subject – is in relative decline, suffering because of funding and status competition with molecular biology and genomics (sexier and less useful than microbiology) . That and the fact that big pharma is not enthusiastic about biological products.
west-hunter  scitariat  discussion  ideas  speculation  bio  science  medicine  meta:medicine  low-hanging  error  stagnation  disease  parasites-microbiome  pharma  innovation  info-dynamics  the-world-is-just-atoms  discovery  the-trenches  alt-inst  dirty-hands  fashun 
july 2017 by nhaliday
Unenumerated: How to succeed or fail on a frontier
There is a thread of space development that more closely resembles the pay-you-go methods of Portugal and other successful explorers and developers of frontiers. These involve launching useful satellites into orbit for communications and surveillance. As with the Portuguese, these serve both military and commercial purposes. They are not just for show. Spinoffs of these spacecraft form the flotilla of small unmanned spacecraft we have sent to by now explore all the planets of the solar system, as well as several comets and asteroids. The succesful Hubble telescope is a spinoff of the U.S. National Reconaissance Office's spy satellites. And environmental satellites have revolutionized weather prediction and climate study on our home planet. Recently, space tourism with suborbital rockets has demonstrated a potential to develop a new thread of pay-as-you-go space development largely unrelated to the prior gargantuan manned spaceflight efforts.

The Zheng He and NASA style of frontier-as-PR, where the emphasis is on showing the glory of the government, is a recipe for failure in the exploration and development of new frontiers. It is in sharp contrast to the pay-as-you go method by which tiny Portugal conquered the world's oceans, exemplified today by the practical unmanned satellites of the commercial and military efforts. It is by these practical efforts, that fund themselves by commercial revenue or practical military or environmental benefit, and not by glorious bureaucratic white elephants, that the successful pioneers will, in good time, explore and develop the solar system.
szabo  unaffiliated  history  early-modern  age-of-discovery  frontier  conquest-empire  china  asia  sinosphere  europe  mediterranean  expansionism  usa  stagnation  status  realness  space  pragmatic  scale  mostly-modern  cold-war  discovery 
june 2017 by nhaliday
List of Chinese inventions - Wikipedia
China has been the source of many innovations, scientific discoveries and inventions.[1] This includes the Four Great Inventions: papermaking, the compass, gunpowder, and printing (both woodblock and movable type). The list below contains these and other inventions in China attested by archaeology or history.
china  asia  sinosphere  technology  innovation  discovery  list  top-n  wiki  reference  article  history  iron-age  medieval  arms  summary  frontier  agriculture  dirty-hands  civilization  the-trenches  electromag  communication  writing  publishing  archaeology  navigation 
june 2017 by nhaliday
Germ theory of disease - Wikipedia
The germ theory was proposed by Girolamo Fracastoro in 1546, and expanded upon by Marcus von Plenciz in 1762. Such views were held in disdain, however, and Galen's miasma theory remained dominant among scientists and doctors. The nature of this doctrine prevented them from understanding how diseases actually progressed, with predictable consequences. By the early nineteenth century, smallpox vaccination was commonplace in Europe, though doctors were unaware of how it worked or how to extend the principle to other diseases. Similar treatments had been prevalent in India from just before 1000 A.D.[2] [N 1] A transitional period began in the late 1850s as the work of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch provided convincing evidence; by 1880, miasma theory was struggling to compete with the germ theory of disease. Eventually, a "golden era" of bacteriology ensued, in which the theory quickly led to the identification of the actual organisms that cause many diseases.[3][4] Viruses were discovered in the 1890s.
concept  disease  parasites-microbiome  bio  science  medicine  meta:medicine  spreading  history  iron-age  medieval  early-modern  europe  mediterranean  the-classics  germanic  britain  dataviz  stories  being-right  info-dynamics  discovery  innovation  wiki  reference  the-trenches  public-health  big-peeps  epidemiology  the-great-west-whale 
may 2017 by nhaliday
Archimedes Palimpsest - Wikipedia
Using this method, Archimedes was able to solve several problems now treated by integral calculus, which was given its modern form in the seventeenth century by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. Among those problems were that of calculating the center of gravity of a solid hemisphere, the center of gravity of a frustum of a circular paraboloid, and the area of a region bounded by a parabola and one of its secant lines. (For explicit details, see Archimedes' use of infinitesimals.)

When rigorously proving theorems, Archimedes often used what are now called Riemann sums. In "On the Sphere and Cylinder," he gives upper and lower bounds for the surface area of a sphere by cutting the sphere into sections of equal width. He then bounds the area of each section by the area of an inscribed and circumscribed cone, which he proves have a larger and smaller area correspondingly. He adds the areas of the cones, which is a type of Riemann sum for the area of the sphere considered as a surface of revolution.

But there are two essential differences between Archimedes' method and 19th-century methods:

1. Archimedes did not know about differentiation, so he could not calculate any integrals other than those that came from center-of-mass considerations, by symmetry. While he had a notion of linearity, to find the volume of a sphere he had to balance two figures at the same time; he never figured out how to change variables or integrate by parts.

2. When calculating approximating sums, he imposed the further constraint that the sums provide rigorous upper and lower bounds. This was required because the Greeks lacked algebraic methods that could establish that error terms in an approximation are small.
big-peeps  history  iron-age  mediterranean  the-classics  innovation  discovery  knowledge  math  math.CA  finiteness  the-trenches  wiki  trivia  cocktail  stories  nibble  canon  differential 
may 2017 by nhaliday
Lost and Found | West Hunter
I get the distinct impression that someone (probably someone other than Varro) came up with an approximation of germ theory 1500 years before Girolamo Fracastoro. But his work was lost.

Everybody knows, or should know, that the vast majority of Classical literature has not been preserved. Those lost works contained facts and ideas that might have value today – certainly there are topics that we understand much better because of insights from Classical literature. For example, Reich and Patterson find that some of the Indian castes have existed for something like three thousand years: this is easier to believe when you consider that Megasthenes wrote about the caste system as early as 300 BC.

We don’t put much effort into recovering lost Classical literature. But there are ways in which we could push harder – by increased funding for work on the Herculaneum scrolls, or the Oxyrhynchus papyri collection, for example. Some old-fashioned motivated archaeology might get lucky and find another set of Amarna cuneiform letters, or a new Antikythera mechanism.

Here we have yet another case in which a discovery was possible for a long time before it was actually accepted. Aristotle is the villain here: he clearly endorses spontaneous generation of many plants and animals. On the other hand, I don’t remember him saying that people should accept all of his conclusions uncritically and without further experimentation for the next couple of thousand years, which is what happened. So maybe we’re all guilty.


Part of the funny here (not even counting practical experience) is that almost every educated man over these two millennia had read, and indeed studied deeply, a work with a fairly clear statement of the actual fly->egg->maggot->fly process. As I as I can tell, only one person (Redi) seems to have picked up on this.

“But the more Achilles gazed, the greater rose his desire for vengeance, and his eyes flashed terribly, like coals beneath his lids, as he lifted the god’s marvellous gifts and exulted. When he had looked his fill on their splendour, he spoke to Thetis winged words; ‘Mother, the god grants me a gift fit for the immortals, such as no mortal smith could fashion. Now I shall arm myself for war. Yet I fear lest flies infest the wounds the bronze blades made, and maggots breed in the corpse of brave Patroclus, and now his life is fled, rot the flesh, and disfigure all his body.’ ”

You’d think a blind man would have noticed this.

Anyhow, the lesson is clear. Low hanging fruit can persist for a long time if the conventional wisdom is wrong – and sometimes it is.


Transmission of the Greek Classics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transmission_of_the_Greek_Classics

By way of comparison, the complete Loeb Classical Library (which includes all the important classical texts) has 337 volumes for Ancient Greek --- and those aren't 100,000 word-long door-stoppers.
$65/year for individuals (I wonder if public libraries have subscriptions?)


1/ Thinking about what Steven Greenblatt described in The Swerve as a mass extinction of ancient books (we have little of what they wrote)
2/ If I could go back in time to, say, 100 AD or 200 AD I would go with simple tech for making books last for a thousand years. Possible?

I’ve put a lot of content out there over the years. Probably on the order of 5 million words across my blogs. Some publications here and there. Lots of tweets. But very little of it will persist into future generations. Digital is evanescent.

But so is paper. I believe that even good hardcover books probably won’t last more than a few hundred years.

Perhaps we should go back to some form of cuneiform? Stone and metal will last thousands of years.

How long does a paperback book last?: https://www.quora.com/How-long-does-a-paperback-book-last

A 500 years vault for books?: https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/137583/a-500-years-vault-for-books
There are about four solutions that have actually worked in history

1. The desert method
2. Give them to an institution which will preserve them
3. The opposite of secrecy: duplicate them extensively

4. Transcribe them to durable materials

It is hard to keep books for a really long time because paper, parchment and papyrus are easily destroyed. However books have been produced on much more durable materials. Nowadays a holographic copy can be laser etched into stainless steel. In Sumer, 5300 years ago they pressed them into clay tablets. If the document was important, they fired the clay; otherwise they just let it dry. The fired versions are close to indestructible.
west-hunter  scitariat  discussion  ideas  speculation  history  iron-age  mediterranean  the-classics  innovation  low-hanging  spreading  disease  parasites-microbiome  🔬  archaeology  discovery  epidemiology  canon  multi  literature  fiction  agriculture  india  asia  pop-structure  social-structure  ethnography  the-trenches  nihil  flux-stasis  science  medieval  europe  the-great-west-whale  letters  info-dynamics  being-right  scale  wiki  reference  trivia  cocktail  curiosity  enlightenment-renaissance-restoration-reformation  article  q-n-a  qra  data  database  project  toys  religion  christianity  civilization  twitter  social  gedanken  gnon  backup  time  volo-avolo  brands  money  gnxp  store  stackex  traces 
may 2017 by nhaliday
Asking the question | West Hunter
Sometimes simply asking the question in the first place is a key step, even when it takes a genius to actually solve the problem. So, even though he couldn’t calculate his way out of a paper bag, Antoine Gombaud, Chevalier de Méré , played an important role in birthing probability theory – by asking Pascal and Fermat to solve the the problem of points – how to divide the stakes of an unfinished series of games. Of course asking the right people is also part of the goodness.

Franciszek Pokorny, who headed the Polish General Staff’s Cipher bureau after World War I, was the first to realize that cryptography and cryptanalysis are essentially mathematical in nature – and that you therefore want to hire mathematicians, rather than classical scholars or members of the band of the battleship California. He recruited Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Różycki: they weren’t considered world-beaters by other Polish mathematicians – not like Arne Beurling – but they broke Enigma.
west-hunter  scitariat  discussion  history  mostly-modern  science  innovation  discovery  the-trenches  curiosity  info-dynamics  ideas  individualism-collectivism  stories  early-modern  eastern-europe  crypto  probability  low-hanging  alt-inst  organizing  creative 
may 2017 by nhaliday
Chinese innovations | West Hunter
I’m interested in hearing about significant innovations out of contemporary China. Good ones. Ideas, inventions, devices, dreams. Throw in Outer China (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore).

super nationalistic dude ("IC") in the comments section (wish his videos had subtitles):

on the carrier-killer missiles: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/05/10/chinese-innovations/#comment-91280
You could take out a carrier task force with a nuke 60 years ago.
Then the other side can nuke something and point to the sunk carrier group saying “they started first”.

Hypersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, or the mysterious anti-ship ballistic missiles China has avoid that.
They avoid that because the law of physics no longer allow radar.

I was thinking about the period in which the United States was experiencing rapid industrial growth, on its way to becoming the most powerful industrial nation. At first not much science, buts lots and lots of technological innovation. I’m not aware of a corresponding efflorescence of innovative Chinese technology today, but then I don’t know everything: so I asked.

I’m still not aware of it. So maybe the answer is ‘no’.

hmm: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/05/10/chinese-innovations/#comment-91389
I would say that a lot of the most intelligent faction is being siphoned over into government work, and thus not focused in technological innovation. We should expect to see societal/political innovation rather than technological if my thesis is true.

There’s some evidence of that.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Battle for the Planet of Low-Hanging Fruit | West Hunter
Peter Chamberlen the elder [1560-1631] was the son of a Huguenot surgeon who had left France in 1576. He invented obstetric forceps , a surgical instrument similar to a pair of tongs, useful in extracting the baby in a  difficult birth.   He, his brother, and  his brother’s descendants preserved and prospered from their private technology for 125 years. They  went to a fair amount of effort to preserve the secret: the pregnant patient was blindfolded, and all others had to leave the room.  The Chamberlens specialized in difficult births  among the rich and famous.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Low-Hanging Poop | West Hunter
Obviously, sheer disgust made it hard for doctors to embrace this treatment.  There’s a lesson here: in the search for low-hanging fruit,  reconsider approaches that are embarrassing, or offensive, or downright disgusting.
west-hunter  scitariat  stories  discussion  medicine  meta:medicine  being-right  info-dynamics  epistemic  emotion  sanctity-degradation  education  low-hanging  error  bounded-cognition  embodied  policy  ideas  the-trenches  alt-inst  innovation  discovery 
may 2017 by nhaliday
Positively wrong | West Hunter
Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true – but sometimes, desperately wanting something to be true pays off. Sometimes because you’re actually right (by luck), and that passion helps you put in the work required to establish it, sometimes because your deluded quest ends up finding something else of actual value – sometimes far more valuable than what you were looking for.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
How Innovation Accelerated in Britain 1651-1851
another possible explanation for this...?:
After staring at my data for long enough, I began to notice a pattern. People went on to innovate if inventors had been among their teachers, colleagues, employers, employees, neighbours, friends, family, and acquaintances. And the more I looked, the more examples I found. Of the hundreds of inventors I studied, nearly all of them began to innovate after meeting inventors. Inspiration mattered - inventing seemed to spread from person to person.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
[1502.05274] How predictable is technological progress?
Recently it has become clear that many technologies follow a generalized version of Moore's law, i.e. costs tend to drop exponentially, at different rates that depend on the technology. Here we formulate Moore's law as a correlated geometric random walk with drift, and apply it to historical data on 53 technologies. We derive a closed form expression approximating the distribution of forecast errors as a function of time. Based on hind-casting experiments we show that this works well, making it possible to collapse the forecast errors for many different technologies at different time horizons onto the same universal distribution. This is valuable because it allows us to make forecasts for any given technology with a clear understanding of the quality of the forecasts. As a practical demonstration we make distributional forecasts at different time horizons for solar photovoltaic modules, and show how our method can be used to estimate the probability that a given technology will outperform another technology at a given point in the future.

- p_t = unit price of tech
- log(p_t) = y_0 - μt + ∑_{i <= t} n_i
- n_t iid noise process
preprint  study  economics  growth-econ  innovation  discovery  technology  frontier  tetlock  meta:prediction  models  time  definite-planning  stylized-facts  regression  econometrics  magnitude  energy-resources  phys-energy  money  cost-benefit  stats  data-science  🔬  ideas  speedometer  multiplicative  methodology  stochastic-processes  time-series  stock-flow  iteration-recursion  org:mat 
april 2017 by nhaliday
Low-Hanging Fruit: Consider the Ant | West Hunter
Which ought to be a reminder that biomimetics is a useful approach to invention:  If you can’t think of anything yourself, steal from the products of evolution.  It’s like an an Edisonian approach, only on steroids.

Along those lines, it is well known, to about 0.1% of the population, that some ants have agriculture. Some protect and herd aphids: others gather leaves as the feedstock for an edible fungus. Those leaf-cutting ants also carry symbiotic fungicide-producing  bacteria that protect against weed fungi [ herbicides invented well before atrazine or 2-4D]  Speaking of, if you really, really want to cause trouble, introduce leaf-cutting ants to Africa.
west-hunter  scitariat  discussion  proposal  low-hanging  innovation  bio  nature  agriculture  technology  ideas  discovery  the-trenches  alt-inst  science  model-organism  track-record 
april 2017 by nhaliday
George Green (mathematician) - Wikipedia
It is unclear to historians exactly where Green obtained information on current developments in mathematics, as Nottingham had little in the way of intellectual resources. What is even more mysterious is that Green had used "the Mathematical Analysis," a form of calculus derived from Leibniz that was virtually unheard of, or even actively discouraged, in England at the time (due to Leibniz being a contemporary of Newton who had his own methods that were championed in England). This form of calculus, and the developments of mathematicians such as Laplace, Lacroix and Poisson were not taught even at Cambridge, let alone Nottingham, and yet Green had not only heard of these developments, but also improved upon them.

It is speculated that only one person educated in mathematics, John Toplis, headmaster of Nottingham High School 1806–1819, graduate from Cambridge and an enthusiast of French mathematics, is known to have lived in Nottingham at the time.
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march 2017 by nhaliday
Was the Wealth of Nations Determined in 1000 BC?
Our most interesting, strong, and robust results are for the association of 1500 AD technology with per capita income and technology adoption today. We also find robust and significant technological persistence from 1000 BC to 0 AD, and from 0 AD to 1500 AD.

migration-adjusted ancestry predicts current economic growth and technology adoption today


Post-1500 Population Flows and the Long Run Determinants of Economic Growth and Inequality: http://www.nber.org/papers/w14448
Persistence of Fortune: Accounting for Population Movements, There Was No Post-Columbian Reversal: http://sci-hub.tw/10.1257/mac.6.3.1
Extended State History Index: https://sites.google.com/site/econolaols/extended-state-history-index
The data set extends and replaces previous versions of the State Antiquity Index (originally created by Bockstette, Chanda and Putterman, 2002). The updated data extends the previous Statehist data into the years before 1 CE, to the first states in Mesopotamia (in the fourth millennium BCE), along with filling in the years 1951 – 2000 CE that were left out of past versions of the Statehist data.
The construction of the index follows the principles developed by Bockstette et al (2002). First, the duration of state existence is established for each territory defined by modern-day country borders. Second, this duration is divided into 50-year periods. For each half-century from the first period (state emergence) onwards, the authors assign scores to reflect three dimensions of state presence, based on the following questions: 1) Is there a government above the tribal level? 2) Is this government foreign or locally based? 3) How much of the territory of the modern country was ruled by this government?

Creators: Oana Borcan, Ola Olsson & Louis Putterman

State History and Economic Development: Evidence from Six Millennia∗: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1cifUljlPpoURL7VPOQRGF5q9H6zgVFXe/view
The presence of a state is one of the most reliable historical predictors of social and economic development. In this article, we complete the coding of an extant indicator of state presence from 3500 BCE forward for almost all but the smallest countries of the world today. We outline a theoretical framework where accumulated state experience increases aggregate productivity in individual countries but where newer or relatively inexperienced states can reach a higher productivity maximum by learning from the experience of older states. The predicted pattern of comparative development is tested in an empirical analysis where we introduce our extended state history variable. Our key finding is that the current level of economic development across countries has a hump-shaped relationship with accumulated state history.

nonlinearity confirmed in this other paper:
State and Development: A Historical Study of Europe from 0 AD to 2000 AD: https://ideas.repec.org/p/hic/wpaper/219.html
After addressing conceptual and practical concerns on its construction, we present a measure of the mean duration of state rule that is aimed at resolving some of these issues. We then present our findings on the relationship between our measure and local development, drawing from observations in Europe spanning from 0 AD to 2000 AD. We find that during this period, the mean duration of state rule and the local income level have a nonlinear, inverse U-shaped relationship, controlling for a set of historical, geographic and socioeconomic factors. Regions that have historically experienced short or long duration of state rule on average lag behind in their local wealth today, while those that have experienced medium-duration state rule on average fare better.

Figure 1 shows all borders that existed during this period
Figure 4 shows quadratic fit

I wonder if U-shape is due to Ibn Kaldun-Turchin style effect on asabiya? They suggest sunk costs and ossified institutions.
study  economics  growth-econ  history  antiquity  medieval  cliometrics  macro  path-dependence  hive-mind  garett-jones  spearhead  biodet  🎩  🌞  human-capital  divergence  multi  roots  demographics  the-great-west-whale  europe  china  asia  technology  easterly  definite-planning  big-picture  big-peeps  early-modern  stylized-facts  s:*  broad-econ  track-record  migration  assimilation  chart  frontier  prepping  discovery  biophysical-econ  cultural-dynamics  wealth-of-nations  ideas  occident  microfoundations  news  org:rec  popsci  age-of-discovery  expansionism  conquest-empire  pdf  piracy  world  developing-world  deep-materialism  dataset  time  data  database  time-series  leviathan  political-econ  polisci  iron-age  mostly-modern  government  institutions  correlation  curvature  econ-metrics  wealth  geography  walls  within-group  nonlinearity  convexity-curvature  models  marginal  wire-guided  branches  cohesion  organizing  hari-seldon 
march 2017 by nhaliday
how big was the edge? | West Hunter
random side note:
- dysgenics running at -.5-1 IQ/generation in NW Europe since ~1800 and China by ~1960
- gap between east asians and europeans typically a bit less than .5 SD (or .3 SD if you look at mainland chinese not asian-americans?), similar variances
- 160/30 * 1/15 = .36, so could explain most of gap depending on when exactly dysgenics started
- maybe Europeans were just smarter back then? still seems like you need additional cultural/personality and historical factors. could be parasite load too.
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march 2017 by nhaliday
I Want a New Drug | West Hunter
Big pharma has taken a new course over the past few years. In the past, most useful drugs originated in some kind of living organism – penicillin, quinine, insulin, etc etc. Nowadays, big pharmaceutical companies use combinatorial chemistry and computer modeling. Merck has sold off its biological-products research arm. This new approach, combined with doubled spending on drug R&D, has been a resounding failure. The rate of development of fundamentally new drugs – ‘new molecular entities’ – is running about 40% of that seen in the 1970s. Since big pharma makes its money from drugs that are still on patent, this slowed innovation is a real threat to their bottom line.


I think that this is an instance of a more general trend: often a modern, advanced approach shows up, and it persists long after it’s been shown to be a miserable failure. You can see some of the reasons why: the people trained in the new technique would lose out if it were abandoned. Hard to imagine combinatorial chemists rooting around in a garbage can looking for moldy fruit.
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february 2017 by nhaliday
Einstein's Most Famous Thought Experiment
When Einstein abandoned an emission theory of light, he had also to abandon the hope that electrodynamics could be made to conform to the principle of relativity by the normal sorts of modifications to electrodynamic theory that occupied the theorists of the second half of the 19th century. Instead Einstein knew he must resort to extraordinary measures. He was willing to seek realization of his goal in a re-examination of our basic notions of space and time. Einstein concluded his report on his youthful thought experiment:

"One sees that in this paradox the germ of the special relativity theory is already contained. Today everyone knows, of course, that all attempts to clarify this paradox satisfactorily were condemned to failure as long as the axiom of the absolute character of time, or of simultaneity, was rooted unrecognized in the unconscious. To recognize clearly this axiom and its arbitrary character already implies the essentials of the solution of the problem."
einstein  giants  physics  history  stories  gedanken  exposition  org:edu  electromag  relativity  nibble  innovation  novelty  the-trenches  synchrony  discovery  🔬  org:junk  science  absolute-relative  visuo  explanation  ground-up  clarity  state  causation  intuition  ideas  mostly-modern  pre-ww2  marginal 
february 2017 by nhaliday
Information Processing: Darwin, Mendel and statistical fluctuations
Freeman Dyson discusses Darwin's failure to discover Mendelian inheritance. Had Darwin a stronger grasp of statistics (then under development by his cousin Francis Galton), he might have discovered the properties of the basic units of inheritance, so central to his theory of natural selection.
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january 2017 by nhaliday
ho.history overview - Proofs that require fundamentally new ways of thinking - MathOverflow
my favorite:
Although this has already been said elsewhere on MathOverflow, I think it's worth repeating that Gromov is someone who has arguably introduced more radical thoughts into mathematics than anyone else. Examples involving groups with polynomial growth and holomorphic curves have already been cited in other answers to this question. I have two other obvious ones but there are many more.

I don't remember where I first learned about convergence of Riemannian manifolds, but I had to laugh because there's no way I would have ever conceived of a notion. To be fair, all of the groundwork for this was laid out in Cheeger's thesis, but it was Gromov who reformulated everything as a convergence theorem and recognized its power.

Another time Gromov made me laugh was when I was reading what little I could understand of his book Partial Differential Relations. This book is probably full of radical ideas that I don't understand. The one I did was his approach to solving the linearized isometric embedding equation. His radical, absurd, but elementary idea was that if the system is sufficiently underdetermined, then the linear partial differential operator could be inverted by another linear partial differential operator. Both the statement and proof are for me the funniest in mathematics. Most of us view solving PDE's as something that requires hard work, involving analysis and estimates, and Gromov manages to do it using only elementary linear algebra. This then allows him to establish the existence of isometric embedding of Riemannian manifolds in a wide variety of settings.
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Thinking Outside One’s Paradigm | Academically Interesting
I think that as a scientist (or really, even as a citizen) it is important to be able to see outside one’s own paradigm. I currently think that I do a good job of this, but it seems to me that there’s a big danger of becoming more entrenched as I get older. Based on the above experiences, I plan to use the following test: When someone asks me a question about my field, how often have I not thought about it before? How tempted am I to say, “That question isn’t interesting”? If these start to become more common, then I’ll know something has gone wrong.
ratty  clever-rats  academia  science  interdisciplinary  lens  frontier  thinking  rationality  meta:science  curiosity  insight  scholar  innovation  reflection  acmtariat  water  biases  heterodox  🤖  🎓  aging  meta:math  low-hanging  big-picture  hi-order-bits  flexibility  org:bleg  nibble  the-trenches  wild-ideas  metameta  courage  s:**  discovery  context  embedded-cognition  endo-exo  near-far  🔬  info-dynamics  allodium  ideas  questions  within-without 
january 2017 by nhaliday
Overcoming Bias : Chip Away At Hard Problems
One of the most common ways that wannabe academics fail is by failing to sufficiently focus on a few topics of interest to academia. Many of them become amateur intellectuals, people who think and write more as a hobby, and less to gain professional rewards via institutions like academia, media, and business. Such amateurs are often just as smart and hard-working as professionals, and they can more directly address the topics that interest them. Professionals, in contrast, must specialize more, have less freedom to pick topics, and must try harder to impress others, which encourages the use of more difficult robust/rigorous methods.

You might think their added freedom would result in amateurs contributing more to intellectual progress, but in fact they contribute less. Yes, amateurs can and do make more initial progress when new topics arise suddenly far from topics where established expert institutions have specialized. But then over time amateurs blow their lead by focusing less and relying on easier more direct methods. They rely more on informal conversation as analysis method, they prefer personal connections over open competitions in choosing people, and they rely more on a perceived consensus among a smaller group of fellow enthusiasts. As a result, their contributions just don’t appeal as widely or as long.
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december 2016 by nhaliday
Morris on the great divergence
Eighteenth-century intellectuals called this approach kaozheng, “evidential research.” It emphasized facts over speculation, bringing methodical, rigorous approaches to fields as diverse as mathematics, astronomy, geography, linguistics, and history, and consistently developing rules for assessing evidence. Kaozheng paralleled western Europe’s scientific revolution in every way—except one: it did not develop a mechanical model of nature.
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december 2016 by nhaliday
A Three-Hour Tour | West Hunter
Here’s a scenario. A ship from some Indian civilization about 4000 years ago [maybe Indus] loses its way and ends up crashing on the shore of Arnhem Land. Like most ships, its crew is all male. They survive the landing, and end up warring with a local tribe. Eventually, they kill off most of the men and annex the sobbing women. The new tribe has 5x higher carrying capacity, essentially due to better technology, and they’re militarily superior as well – better weapons and tactics. They expand and expand, picking up more and more old Australian genes as they do so. Not as an empire – they’re too simple for that – but the tribes that descend from them keep winning. They speak the ancestor of the Macro-Pama-Nyungan languages, which originates as a mix between their old-Dravidian language (from the men) and some local Australian tongue (from the women).


In the post-Columbian world, there have been events that could have gone this way, but the players always ran into Europeans again before anything really interesting had time to happen.

Castaways: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/castaways/
We may have yet another story of long-distance prehistoric contact. A new paper in PLOS genetics suggests that people from the Jomon culture in Japan may have reached northwestern South America. They found an unusual Y-chromosome lineage in Ecuador that is fairly common in Korea and Japan (especially the Ainu) but is essentially nonexistent in the rest of the Americas. The idea is not new: the first pottery in the Americas apparently originated in that area, pottery that looks very similar to that made by the Jomon culture. Moreover, you find HTLV-I in both areas, which is probably a hint.

Betty Meggers and Clifford Evans, who excavated the Valdivia culture, came up with this hypothesis back in 1969. Apparently, it seemed plausible to other archaeologists, except for two objections, one fairly reasonable and the other friggin’ insane. The reasonable objection was simple: it’s a damn long way from Japan to Ecuador. Fair enough. The second, demented objection was that diffusionist explanations of technological advances implicitly diss the locals – and since we’re talking Native Americans, we can’t have that!

I had missed it, possibly because I didn’t have my crazy hat on, but the same issue was in the background of the reaction to that recent paper that found evidence of gene flow from India to Australia. Around that time, you see the dingo, new kinds of stone tools and weapons, and new food processing techniques. I guess you’re insulting the Aborigines if you don’t think they invented the dog – invented, not domesticated, since there weren’t any canids in Australia, hardly any placental mammals.

For the Americas, the [current] pre-Columbian picture is this, more or less: the original Amerind migration, followed by the Na-Dene, then Eskimo-Aleuts, spiced with Jomon in Ecuador, a visit or two to the west coast of South America by Polynesians (who picked up the sweet potato), and finally Norskis in Vinland.

For Australia, gene & meme flow from India about five thousand years ago – probably a shipwreck.

Another shipwreck may have brought Indonesians to an uninhabited Madagascar.

The real question is why there weren’t more visitations, and why they didn’t seem to make much difference. There were probably quite a few. We know of many cases in recent historical times in which Japanese fishing vessels with surviving crew were cast on the western shores of the Americas. They landed in Acapulco in 1617, Alaska in 1805, just off Santa Barbara in 1815, the Oregon coast in 1820, Queen Charlotte’s island in in 1831, Mexico in 1845. They landed in Oahu in 1832, and local Polynesians were aware of several others before Captain Cook’s arrival in 1778.

The question is why this trans-Pacific demographic leakage had so little cultural effect. We know that the major American crops were locally domesticated and that no Eurasian animals (other than dogs) seem to have made it across. Writing, metallurgy, the wheel – doesn’t look as if there was any transmission of that information.

I’m sure that in many cases, castaways had a short and unhappy life. The three Japanese fishermen who washed up on the Olympic peninsula in 1834 were immediately enslaved by the local Indians. They were soon ransomed by the Hudson’s Bay company, but that didn’t happen in the olden days. With no common language, I’ll bet those enslaved were the lucky ones.
west-hunter  asia  india  cocktail  sapiens  antiquity  stories  civilization  anglo  technology  age-of-discovery  frontier  discovery  arms  gene-flow  scitariat  conquest-empire  archaeology  oceans  migration  multi  history  usa  japan  latin-america  farmers-and-foragers  genetics  genomics  egalitarianism-hierarchy  early-modern  pre-ww2  the-west  trivia  traces 
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
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.
west-hunter  physics  cocktail  stories  history  thick-thin  low-hanging  applications  bounded-cognition  error  epistemic  management  scitariat  info-dynamics  ideas  discovery  the-trenches  alt-inst  trivia  theory-practice  is-ought  being-right  magnitude  intersection-connectedness  sky  electromag  fire  inference  apollonian-dionysian  consilience 
november 2016 by nhaliday
Low-hanging fruit | West Hunter
Think about it: peptic and duodenal ulcer were fairly common, and so were effective antibiotics, starting in the mid-40s. . Every internist in the world – every surgeon – every GP was accidentally curing ulcers – not just one or twice, but again and again. For decades. Almost none of them noticed it, even though it was happening over and over, right in front of their eyes. Those who did notice were ignored until the mid-80s, when Robin Warren and Barry Marshall finally made the discovery stick. Even then, it took something like 10 years for antibiotic treatment of ulcers to become common, even though it was cheap and effective. Or perhaps because it was cheap and effective.

This illustrates an important point: doctors are lousy scientists, lousy researchers. They’re memorizers, not puzzle solvers. Considering that Western medicine was an ineffective pseudoscience – actually, closer to a malignant pseudoscience – for its first two thousand years, we shouldn’t be surprised. Since we’re looking for low-hanging fruit, this is good news. It means that the great discoveries in medicine are probably not mined out. From our point of view, past incompetence predicts future progress. The worse, the better!
stagnation  science  history  medicine  innovation  technology  west-hunter  low-hanging  meta:medicine  the-world-is-just-atoms  🔬  scitariat  info-dynamics  bounded-cognition  error  chart  econotariat  marginal-rev  being-right  ideas  discovery  the-trenches  s:*  alt-inst  ability-competence  cost-benefit  track-record  problem-solving  puzzles 
november 2016 by nhaliday
Overcoming Bias : In Innovation, Meta is Max
Building on my intro to innovation, which summarized previous work, let me now offer a new insight: the max net-impact innovations, by far, have been meta-innovations, i.e., innovations that changed how fast other innovations accumulated.
strategy  impact  hanson  thinking  growth  essay  ratty  innovation  pre-2013  metameta  discovery  info-dynamics 
october 2016 by nhaliday
Crypt on Twitter: ">the murder rate is down >yes but violent assault is up, medical advancements keep more people alive post-violence https://t.co/nJwgKOPxpw https://t.co/yfy1LB7diW"
Medical advances mask epidemic of violence by cutting murder rate: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1124155/
The far east finds the western tolerance of crime and public disorder bewildering.
Firearms and the Decline of Violence in Europe: 1200-2010: http://economics.wm.edu/wp/cwm_wp158.pdf
MAKE BRITAIN SAFER: BRING BACK PISTOLS: https://www.adamsmith.org/blog/liberty-justice/make-britain-safer-bring-back-handguns
Look at these breakpoints in violence trend when innovations made guns much cheaper
^ Sarah Perry: as crime increases it gets more male

The History of Homicide in the U.S.: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/cs/groups/dbassesite/documents/webpage/dbasse_083892.pdf

Pinker: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/h/humfig/11217607.0002.206/--decivilization-in-the-1960s?rgn=main;view=fulltext

From Swords to Words: Does Macro-Level Change in Self-Control Predict Long-Term Variation in Levels of Homicide?: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264402032_From_Swords_to_Words_Does_Macro-Level_Change_in_Self-Control_Predict_Long-Term_Variation_in_Levels_of_Homicide
Over the past decade the idea that Europe experienced a centuries-long decline in homicide, interrupted by recurrent surges and at different speeds in different parts of the continent, became widely acknowledged. So far explanations have relied mostly on anecdotal evidence, usually broadly relying on Norbert Elias's theory of the "civilizing process." One major general theory of large-scale fluctuations in homicide rates, self-control theory, offers a wide range of hypotheses that can be tested with rigorous quantitative analyses. A number of macro-level indicators for so-cietal efforts to promote civility, self-discipline, and long-sightedness have been examined and appear to be strongly associated with fluctuations in homicide rates over the past six centuries.

By the way, for those of you who haven't seen the statistics first hand:
(Warning, spreadsheet)
Population has doubled.
"more serious wounding" has gone up 60 times. (So, 30 times per cap.)
Murder has only doubled. 300ish to 700ish. So, roughly in line with population. However, WWI and WWII dramatically improved trauma medicine. That's why 'wounding' can go up 30 times and murder stays constant.
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october 2016 by nhaliday
The 10,000 Year Explosion - Parting of the Ways
There are plenty of other challenges that humans of that era (~100,000 years ago) never met: for example they never colonized the high Arctic, the Americas, or Australia/New Guinea. Even though Neanderthals and Africans had brains that were as large as or larger than those of modern humans, even though humans in Africa were reasonably modern-looking, modern behavioral capacities did not yet exist. They didn't yet have the spark. Come to think of it, most people today still don't. We'll have more to say on that in a moment.


The Neanderthals had big brains (averaging about 1500 cubic centimeters, noticeably larger than those of modern people) and a technology like that of their anatomically modern contemporaries in Africa, but were quite different in a number of ways: different physically, but also socially and ecologically. Neanderthals were cold-adapted, with relatively short arms and legs in order to reduce heat loss - something like Arctic peoples today, only much more so. Considering that the climate the Neanderthals experienced was considerably milder than the high Arctic (more like Wisconsin), their pronounced cold adaptation suggest that they may have relied more on physical than cultural changes. Of course they spent at least six times as many generations in the cold as any modern human population has, and that may have had something to do with it as well.


Like other early humans, Neanderthals were relatively uncreative; their tools changed very slowly and they show no signs of art, symbolism, or trade. Their brains were large and had grown larger over time, in parallel with humans in Africa, but we really have no idea what they did with them. Since brains are metabolically expensive, natural selection wouldn't have favored an increase in brain size unless it increased fitness, but we don't know what function that those big brains served. Usually people explain that those big brains are not as impressive as they seem, since the brain-to-body weight ratio is what’s really important, and Neanderthals were heavier than modern humans of the same height.

You may wonder why we normalize brain size by body weight. We wonder as well.

Among less intelligent creatures, such as amphibians and reptiles, most of the brain is busy dealing with a flood of sensory data. You’d expect that brain size would have to increase with body size in some way in order to keep up. If you assume that the key is how much surface the animal has, in order to monitor what’s causing that nagging itch and control all the muscles needed for movement, brain size should scale as the 2/3rds power of weight. If an animal has a brain that’s bigger than predicted by that 2/3rds power scaling law, then maybe it’s smarter than average. That argument works reasonable well for a wide range of species, but it can’t make sense for animals with big brains. In particular it can’t make sense for primates, since in that case we know that most of the brain is used for purposes other than muscle control and immediate reaction to sensation. Look at this way - if dividing brain volume by weight is a valid approach, Nero Wolfe must be really, really stupid.

We think that Neanderthal brains really were large, definitely larger than those of people today. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they were smarter, at least not as a culture. The archaeological record certainly indicates that they were not, since their material culture was definitely simpler than that of their successors. In fact, they may have been relatively unintelligent, even with their big brains. Although brain size certainly is correlated with intelligence in modern humans, it is not the only factor that affects intelligence. By the way, you may have read somewhere (The Mismeasure of Man) that brain volume has no relationship to intelligence, but that’s just a lie.

One paradoxical possibility is that Neanderthals lacked complex language and so had to be smart as individuals in order to learn their culture and technology, while that same lack severely limited their societal achievements. Complex language of the type we see in modern humans makes learning a lot easier: without it, learning to create even Mousterian tools may have been difficult. In that case, individuals would have to repeatedly re-invent the wheel (so to speak) while there would have been little societal progress.

It could also be that Neanderthal brains were less powerful than you’d expect because there just weren’t enough Neanderthals. That may sound obscure, but bear with us. The problem is that evolution is less efficient in small populations, in the same way that any statistical survey – polls, for example -becomes less accurate with fewer samples.


Our favorite hypothesis is that Neanderthals and other archaic humans had a fundamentally different kind of learning than moderns. One of the enduring puzzles is the near-stasis of tool kits in early humans - as we have said before, the Acheulean hand-axe tradition last for almost a million years and extended from the Cape of Good Hope to Germany, while the Mousterian lasted for a quarter of a million years. Somehow these early humans were capable of transmitting a simple material culture for hundreds of thousands of years with little change. More information was transmitted to the next generation than in chimpanzees, but not as much as in modern humans. At the same time, that information was transmitted with surprisingly high accuracy. This must be the case, since random errors in transmission would have caused changes in those tool traditions, resulting in noticeable variation over space and time – which we do not see.

It looks to us as if toolmaking in those populations was, to some extent, innate: genetically determined. Just as song birds are born with a rough genetic template that constrains what songs are learned, early humans may have been born with genetically determined behavioral tendencies that resulted in certain kinds of tools. Genetic transmission of that information has the characteristics required to explain this pattern of simple, near-static technology, since only a limited amount of information can be acquired through natural selection, while the information that is acquired is transmitted with very high accuracy.


Starting 70,000 or 80,000 years ago, we begin to see some signs of increased cultural complexity in Africa. There is evidence of long-distance transport of tool materials (obsidian) in Ethiopia, which could be the first signs of trade. A set of pierced snail shells (~75,000 years old) in Blombos Cave in South Africa seem, judging from wear, to be the remains of a necklace, although there is no evidence that tools were used to pierce the shells. In that same site, researchers found pieces of ochre with a crosshatched pattern inscribed. We have found manufactured ostrich-egg beads in Kenya that are about 50,000 years old, the first clear examples of artificial decorative or symbolic (that is to say, useless) objects. We see a new kind of small stone points that must have been used on darts that were considerably smaller than previous spears. Although it would seem likely that such darts would have been propelled by atlatls, no atlatls have yet been found that date anywhere near that far back. There are reports of 90,000 year-old bone fish spears from central Africa which, if correct, would be evidence of a significant advance in tool complexity. However, since no other similar tools found in Africa are older than 30,000 years, those fish spears are roughly as anomalous as a Neanderthal-era thumb drive, and we have our doubts about that date. On the whole, the African archeological data of this period furnishes examples of new technology and simple symbolic objects, but the evidence is patchy, and it seems that some innovations appeared and then faded away for reasons that we don’t understand.

A note on behavioral modernity: the consensus seems to be that any clear evidence of a population making symbolic or decorative objects establishes their behavioral modernity, defined as cultural creativity and reliance on abstract thought. For some reason, anthropologists treat behavioral modernity as a qualitative character: an ancient population either had it or not, just as women are pregnant or not, never a ‘little bit pregnant’. It’s treated as a Boolean variable. Like so many basic notions in anthropology, this makes no sense. The components of ‘behavioral modernity’ had to be evolved traits with heritable variation, subject to natural selection – how else would they have come into existence at all? Surely ancient individuals and populations varied in their capacity for abstract thought and cultural innovation – behavioral modernity must be more like height than pregnancy.


The fact the ability to learn complex new ideas and transmit them to the next generation is universal in modern humans suggests that natural selection favored that kind of receptivity. On the other hand, the rarity of individual creativity suggests that the trait itself was not favored by selection in the past, but is instead a rare side effect.

We think that the archaeological record in Africa before the expansion of modern humans shows a gradual but slow increase in such abilities, which is the usual pattern for a trait favored by selection. On the other hand, the rate of change in the European Upper Paleolithic seems faster, almost discontinuous – but there is a well-understood biological pattern that may explain that as well.

The most dramatic evidence of some kind of significant change is the fact that anatomically modern humans expanded out of Africa about 50,000 years ago.
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september 2016 by nhaliday
Eroom's Law - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
drug discovery is becoming slower and more expensive over time

While some suspect a lack of "low hanging fruit" as a significant contribution to Eroom's law, this may be less important than the four main causes, as there are still many decades worth of new potential drug targets relative to the number of drugged targets, even if the industry exploits 4-5 new targets per year.[2] There is also space to explore selectively non-selective drugs (or "dirty drugs") that interact with several molecular targets, and which may be particularly effective as central nervous system (CNS) therapeutics, even though few of them have been introduced in the last few decades.[4]
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september 2016 by nhaliday
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