nhaliday + low-hanging   58

The first ethical revolution – Gene Expression
Fifty years ago Julian Jaynes published The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Seventy years ago Karl Jaspers introduced the concept of the Axial Age. Both point to the same dynamic historically.

Something happened in the centuries around 500 BCE all around the world. Great religions and philosophies arose. The Indian religious traditions, the Chinese philosophical-political ones, and the roots of what we can recognize as Judaism. In Greece, the precursors of many modern philosophical streams emerged formally, along with a variety of political systems.

The next few centuries saw some more innovation. Rabbinical Judaism transformed a ritualistic tribal religion into an ethical one, and Christianity universalized Jewish religious thought, as well as infusing it with Greek systematic concepts. Meanwhile, Indian and Chinese thought continued to evolve, often due to interactions each other (it is hard to imagine certain later developments in Confucianism without the Buddhist stimulus). Finally, in the 7th century, Islam emerges as the last great world religion.

...

Living in large complex societies with social stratification posed challenges. A religion such as Christianity was not a coincidence, something of its broad outlines may have been inevitable. Universal, portable, ethical, and infused with transcendence and coherency. Similarly, god-kings seem to have universally transformed themselves into the human who binds heaven to earth in some fashion.

The second wave of social-ethical transformation occurred in the early modern period, starting in Europe. My own opinion is that economic growth triggered by innovation and gains in productivity unleashed constraints which had dampened further transformations in the domain of ethics. But the new developments ultimately were simply extensions and modifications on the earlier “source code” (e.g., whereas for nearly two thousand years Christianity had had to make peace with the existence of slavery, in the 19th century anti-slavery activists began marshaling Christian language against the institution).
gnxp  scitariat  discussion  reflection  religion  christianity  theos  judaism  china  asia  sinosphere  orient  india  the-great-west-whale  occident  history  antiquity  iron-age  mediterranean  the-classics  canon  philosophy  morality  ethics  universalism-particularism  systematic-ad-hoc  analytical-holistic  confucian  big-peeps  innovation  stagnation  technology  economics  biotech  enhancement  genetics  bio  flux-stasis  automation  ai  low-hanging  speedometer  time  distribution  smoothness  shift  dennett  simler  volo-avolo  👽  mystic  marginal  farmers-and-foragers  wealth  egalitarianism-hierarchy  values  formal-values  ideology  good-evil 
april 2018 by nhaliday
Plague of Frogs | West Hunter
For a few years the herpetologists were concerned yet happy. Concerned, because many frog populations were crashing and some were going extinct. Happy, because confused puppies in Washington were giving them money, something that hardly ever happens to frogmen. The theory was that amphibians were ‘canaries in a coal mine’, uniquely sensitive to environmental degradation.

...

It took some time for herpetologists to admit that this chytrid fungus is the main culprit – some are still resisting. First, it was a lot like how doctors resisted Semmelweiss’ discoveries about the cause of puerperal fever – since doctors were the main method of transmission. How did this fungus get to the cloud forests of Costa Rica? On the boots of herpetologists, of course.

The second problem is Occam’s butterknife: even though this chytrid fungus is the main culprit, it’s just got to be more complicated than that. Even if it isn’t. People in the life sciences – biology and medicine – routinely reject simple hypotheses that do a good job of explaining the data for more complex hypotheses that don’t. College taught them to think – unwisely.
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february 2018 by nhaliday
Measles and immunological amnesia | West Hunter
A new paper in Science , by Michael Mina et al,  strongly suggests that measles messes up your immunological defenses for two or three years. This is the likely explanation for the fact that measles inoculation causes much greater decreases in child morbidity and mortality than you’d expect from preventing the deaths directly due to measles infection. The thought is that measles whacks the cells that carry immunological memory, leaving the kid ripe for reinfections.  I think there can be a similar effect with anti-cancer chemotherapy.

If correct, this means that measles is much nastier than previously thought. It must have played a significant role in the demographic collapse of long-isolated peoples (such as the Amerindians). Its advent may have played a role in the population decrease associated with the decline of the Classical world.  Even though it is relatively new (having split off from rinderpest a couple of thousand years ago) strong selection for resistance may have  favored some fairly expensive genetic defenses (something like sickle-cell) in Eurasian populations.

We already know of quite a few complex side effects of infectious disease, such the different kind of immunosuppression we see with AIDs, Burkitt’s lymphoma hitting kids with severe Epstein-Barr infections followed by malaria, acute dengue fever that requires a previous infection by a different strain of dengue, etc: there may well be other important interactions and side effects, news of which has not yet come to Harvard.
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october 2017 by nhaliday
Of Mice and Men | West Hunter
It’s not always easy figuring out how a pathogen causes disease. There is an example in mice for which the solution was very difficult, so difficult that we would probably have failed to discover the cause of a similarly obscure infectious disease in humans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooties are everywhere.

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

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

Patrick Moore found the virus causing Kaposi’s sarcoma without any funding at all. I’m sure Peter Thiel could afford a serious try.
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september 2017 by nhaliday
National Greatness | West Hunter
As production rose, availability increased. At first, penicillin was largely reserved for US and British military needs. Later, it became available to US and British civilians, and soon after for general usage.

But there was a time window of several months in which American-produced penicillin was available for American wounded but not for French casualties. Fortunately, it happens that penicillin is rapidly excreted in urine. It can be recovered. Between January and April 1945, Rhône-Poulenc extracted penicillin from the urine of wounded American servicemen being treated in hospitals around Paris, penicillin which was then used to treat the wounded of the French Army. They typically recovered about 100 doses from 300 liters of urine.

When American piss is the elixir of life – that is national greatness.

USSR, innovation, and Japan: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/national-greatness/#comment-11653
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september 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.
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july 2017 by nhaliday
Alzheimers | West Hunter
Some disease syndromes almost have to be caused by pathogens – for example, any with a fitness impact (prevalence x fitness reduction) > 2% or so, too big to be caused by mutational pressure. I don’t think that this is the case for AD: it hits so late in life that the fitness impact is minimal. However, that hardly means that it can’t be caused by a pathogen or pathogens – a big fraction of all disease syndromes are, including many that strike in old age. That possibility is always worth checking out, not least because infectious diseases are generally easier to prevent and/or treat.

There is new work that strongly suggests that pathogens are the root cause. It appears that the amyloid is an antimicrobial peptide. amyloid-beta binds to invading microbes and then surrounds and entraps them. ‘When researchers injected Salmonella into mice’s hippocampi, a brain area damaged in Alzheimer’s, A-beta quickly sprang into action. It swarmed the bugs and formed aggregates called fibrils and plaques. “Overnight you see the plaques throughout the hippocampus where the bugs were, and then in each single plaque is a single bacterium,” Tanzi says. ‘

obesity and pathogens: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/alzheimers/#comment-79757
not sure about this guy, but interesting: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/alzheimers/#comment-79748
http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2010/06/is-alzheimer%E2%80%99s-caused-by-a-bacterial-infection-of-the-brain/

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/the-twelfth-battle-of-the-isonzo/
All too often we see large, long-lasting research efforts that never produce, never achieve their goal.

For example, the amyloid hypothesis [accumulation of amyloid-beta oligomers is the cause of Alzheimers] has been dominant for more than 20 years, and has driven development of something like 15 drugs. None of them have worked. At the same time the well-known increased risk from APOe4 has been almost entirely ignored, even though it ought to be a clue to the cause.

In general, when a research effort has been spinning its wheels for a generation or more, shouldn’t we try something different? We could at least try putting a fraction of those research dollars into alternative approaches that have not yet failed repeatedly.

Mostly this applies to research efforts that at least wish they were science. ‘educational research’ is in a special class, and I hardly know what to recommend. Most of the remedial actions that occur to me violate one or more of the Geneva conventions.

APOe4 related to lymphatic system: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apolipoprotein_E

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/spontaneous-generation/#comment-2236
Look,if I could find out the sort of places that I usually misplace my keys – if I did, which I don’t – I could find the keys more easily the next time I lose them. If you find out that practitioners of a given field are not very competent, it marks that field as a likely place to look for relatively easy discovery. Thus medicine is a promising field, because on the whole doctors are not terribly good investigators. For example, none of the drugs developed for Alzheimers have worked at all, which suggests that our ideas on the causation of Alzheimers are likely wrong. Which suggests that it may (repeat may) be possible to make good progress on Alzheimers, either by an entirely empirical approach, which is way underrated nowadays, or by dumping the current explanation, finding a better one, and applying it.

You could start by looking at basic notions of field X and asking yourself: How do we really know that? Is there serious statistical evidence? Does that notion even accord with basic theory? This sort of checking is entirely possible. In most of the social sciences, we don’t, there isn’t, and it doesn’t.

Hygiene and the world distribution of Alzheimer’s disease: Epidemiological evidence for a relationship between microbial environment and age-adjusted disease burden: https://academic.oup.com/emph/article/2013/1/173/1861845/Hygiene-and-the-world-distribution-of-Alzheimer-s

Amyloid-β peptide protects against microbial infection in mouse and worm models of Alzheimer’s disease: http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/8/340/340ra72

Fungus, the bogeyman: http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21676754-curious-result-hints-possibility-dementia-caused-fungal
Fungus and dementia
paper: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep15015
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july 2017 by nhaliday
Is Pharma Research Worse Than Chance? | Slate Star Codex
Here’s one hypothesis: at the highest level, the brain doesn’t have that many variables to affect, or all the variables are connected. If you smack the brain really really hard in some direction or other, you will probably treat some psychiatric disease. Drugs of abuse are ones that smack the brain really hard in some direction or other. They do something. So find the psychiatric illness that’s treated by smacking the brain in that direction, and you’re good.

Actual carefully-researched psychiatric drugs are exquisitely selected for having few side effects. The goal is something like an SSRI – mild stomach discomfort, some problems having sex, but overall you can be on them forever and barely notice their existence. In the grand scheme of things their side effects are tiny – in most placebo-controlled studies, people have a really hard time telling whether they’re in the experimental or the placebo group.

...

But given that we’re all very excited to learn about ketamine and MDMA, and given that if their original promise survives further testing we will consider them great discoveries, it suggests we chose the wrong part of the tradeoff curve. Or at least it suggests a different way of framing that tradeoff curve. A drug that makes you feel extreme side effects for a few hours – but also has very strong and lasting treatment effects – is better than a drug with few side effects and weaker treatment effects. That suggests a new direction pharmaceutical companies might take: look for the chemicals that have the strongest and wackiest effects on the human mind. Then see if any of them also treat some disease.

I think this is impossible with current incentives. There’s too little risk-tolerance at every stage in the system. But if everyone rallied around the idea, it might be that trying the top hundred craziest things Alexander Shulgin dreamed up on whatever your rat model is would be orders of magnitude more productive than whatever people are doing now.
ratty  yvain  ssc  reflection  psychiatry  medicine  pharma  drugs  error  efficiency  random  meta:medicine  flexibility  outcome-risk  incentives  stagnation  innovation  low-hanging  tradeoffs  realness  perturbation  degrees-of-freedom  volo-avolo  null-result 
june 2017 by nhaliday
Edge.org: 2017 : WHAT SCIENTIFIC TERM OR CONCEPT OUGHT TO BE MORE WIDELY KNOWN?
highlights:
- the genetic book of the dead [Dawkins]
- complementarity [Frank Wilczek]
- relative information
- effective theory [Lisa Randall]
- affordances [Dennett]
- spontaneous symmetry breaking
- relatedly, equipoise [Nicholas Christakis]
- case-based reasoning
- population reasoning (eg, common law)
- criticality [Cesar Hidalgo]
- Haldan's law of the right size (!SCALE!)
- polygenic scores
- non-ergodic
- ansatz
- state [Aaronson]: http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=3075
- transfer learning
- effect size
- satisficing
- scaling
- the breeder's equation [Greg Cochran]
- impedance matching

soft:
- reciprocal altruism
- life history [Plomin]
- intellectual honesty [Sam Harris]
- coalitional instinct (interesting claim: building coalitions around "rationality" actually makes it more difficult to update on new evidence as it makes you look like a bad person, eg, the Cathedral)
basically same: https://twitter.com/ortoiseortoise/status/903682354367143936

more: https://www.edge.org/conversation/john_tooby-coalitional-instincts

interesting timing. how woke is this dude?
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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.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/spontaneous-generation/
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.

http://www.bede.org.uk/literature.htm

Transmission of the Greek Classics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transmission_of_the_Greek_Classics
https://www.quora.com/How-much-writing-from-ancient-Greece-is-preserved-Is-it-a-finite-amount-that-someone-could-potentially-read

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.
https://www.loebclassics.com/
$65/year for individuals (I wonder if public libraries have subscriptions?)

http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2009/10/26/reference-for-the-claim-that-only-1-of-ancient-literature-survives/
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2015/01/finding-the-lost-texts-of-classical-antiquity/
http://www.historyofinformation.com/narrative/loss-of-information.php
http://www.bede.org.uk/literature.htm

https://twitter.com/futurepundit/status/927344648154112000
https://archive.is/w86uL
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?

https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2018/01/28/the-rapid-fading-of-information/
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.
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may 2017 by nhaliday
Interview: Mostly Sealing Wax | West Hunter
https://soundcloud.com/user-519115521/greg-cochran-part-2
https://medium.com/@houstoneuler/annotating-part-2-of-the-greg-cochran-interview-with-james-miller-678ba33f74fc

- conformity and Google, defense and spying (China knows prob almost all our "secrets")
- in the past you could just find new things faster than people could reverse-engineer. part of the problem is that innovation is slowing down today (part of the reason for convergence by China/developing world).
- introgression from archaics of various kinds
- mutational load and IQ, wrath of khan neanderthal
- trade and antiquity (not that useful besides ideas tbh), Roman empire, disease, smallpox
- spices needed to be grown elsewhere, but besides that...
- analogy: caste system in India (why no Brahmin car repairmen?), slavery in Greco-Roman times, more water mills in medieval times (rivers better in north, but still could have done it), new elite not liking getting hands dirty, low status of engineers, rise of finance
- crookery in finance, hedge fund edge might be substantially insider trading
- long-term wisdom of moving all manufacturing to China...?
- economic myopia: British financialization before WW1 vis-a-vis Germany. North vs. South and cotton/industry, camels in Middle East vs. wagons in Europe
- Western medicine easier to convert to science than Eastern, pseudoscience and wrong theories better than bag of recipes
- Greeks definitely knew some things that were lost (eg, line in Pliny makes reference to combinatorics calculation rediscovered by German dude much later. think he's referring to Catalan numbers?), Lucio Russo book
- Indo-Europeans, Western Europe, Amerindians, India, British Isles, gender, disease, and conquest
- no farming (Dark Age), then why were people still farming on Shetland Islands north of Scotland?
- "symbolic" walls, bodies with arrows
- family stuff, children learning, talking dog, memory and aging
- Chinese/Japanese writing difficulty and children learning to read
- Hatfield-McCoy feud: the McCoy family was actually a case study in a neurological journal. they had anger management issues because of cancers of their adrenal gland (!!).

the Chinese know...: https://macropolo.org/casting-off-real-beijings-cryptic-warnings-finance-taking-economy/
Over the last couple of years, a cryptic idiom has crept into the way China’s top leaders talk about risks in the country’s financial system: tuo shi xiang xu (脱实向虚), which loosely translates as “casting off the real for the empty.” Premier Li Keqiang warned against it at his press conference at the end of the 2016 National People’s Congress (NPC). At this year’s NPC, Li inserted this very expression into his annual work report. And in April, while on an inspection tour of Guangxi, President Xi Jinping used the term, saying that China must “unceasingly promote industrial modernization, raise the level of manufacturing, and not allow the real to be cast off for the empty.”

Such an odd turn of phrase is easy to overlook, but it belies concerns about a significant shift in the way that China’s economy works. What Xi and Li were warning against is typically called financialization in developed economies. It’s when “real” companies—industrial firms, manufacturers, utility companies, property developers, and anyone else that produces a tangible product or service—take their money and, rather than put it back into their businesses, invest it in “empty”, or speculative, assets. It occurs when the returns on financial investments outstrip those in the real economy, leading to a disproportionate amount of money being routed into the financial system.
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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
Vegetables | Examine.com
I really wonder if eating 2 servings of Brassica, 2 servings of the Onion family, 2 servings of Garlic, 2 servings of mushrooms, and 2 'other' plants (dark berries?) is as magical as I am imagining it right now. You pretty much have a high dose of everything.
org:health  top-n  links  health  nutrition  diet  fitsci  low-hanging  prepping  metabolic  minimum-viable 
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.
west-hunter  scitariat  discussion  history  early-modern  mostly-modern  stories  info-dynamics  science  meta:science  technology  low-hanging  fourier  europe  germanic  IEEE  ideas  the-trenches  alt-inst  discovery  innovation  open-closed 
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
technological development - What could an average modern human achieve in medieval times? - Worldbuilding Stack Exchange
John's best bet is to find a monastery and stay there. The monks have some degree of charity towards wandering halfwits who can barely communicate -- and make no mistake, this is how John will come across at first. Once the monks get to know him, they may value his more unusual skills, especially his ability to read and write.
q-n-a  stackex  gedanken  time  history  medieval  europe  lived-experience  disease  parasites-microbiome  medicine  allodium  stories  early-modern  embodied  technology  low-hanging  prepping  frontier  ideas  writing  feudal 
may 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
Annotating Greg Cochran’s interview with James Miller
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/
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
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/interview-2/#comment-90299
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.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/ramble-on/
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/topics/
https://soundcloud.com/user-519115521/greg-cochran-part-1
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, etc.
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april 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.
west-hunter  discussion  pharma  medicine  FDA  randy-ayndy  regularizer  critique  minimalism  bio  nature  low-hanging  drugs  error  scitariat  info-dynamics  innovation  ideas  discovery  meta:medicine  stagnation  parasites-microbiome  the-trenches  alt-inst  dirty-hands  regulation  civil-liberty  proposal  corporation  fashun 
february 2017 by nhaliday
Gundeshapur | West Hunter
Some of the more useful drugs are a product of “traditional medicine”. Colchicine for gout, digitalis, aspirin. The best current drug for falciparum malaria is the result of project 523, where the PLA (at the request of Ho Chi Minh) had people dig through old Chinese herbal manuals. Communism and Taoist magic – the royal road to drug development. Tu Youyou received the Nobel prize for this work in 2015; truly, there are other ways of knowing
west-hunter  medicine  science  history  antiquity  stories  frontier  china  asia  MENA  discussion  speculation  drugs  meta:medicine  mostly-modern  iron-age  scitariat  ideas  low-hanging  the-classics  iran  conquest-empire 
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
Childhood forecasting of a small segment of the population with large economic burden : Nature Human Behaviour
A segment comprising 22% of the cohort accounted for 36% of the cohort’s injury insurance claims; 40% of excess obese kilograms; 54% of cigarettes smoked; 57% of hospital nights; 66% of welfare benefits; 77% of fatherless child-rearing; 78% of prescription fills; and 81% of criminal convictions. Childhood risks, including poor brain health at three years of age, predicted this segment with large effect sizes. Early-years interventions that are effective for this population segment could yield very large returns on investment.
study  crime  class  policy  arbitrage  economics  anthropology  org:nat  health  stylized-facts  obesity  🎩  🌞  redistribution  pareto  low-hanging  biodet  epidemiology  sociology  distribution  healthcare  wonkish  society  objektbuch  s-factor  behavioral-gen  criminology  public-health  chart  welfare-state 
december 2016 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.
ratty  postrat  culture  academia  science  epistemic  hanson  frontier  contrarianism  thick-thin  long-term  regularizer  strategy  impact  essay  subculture  meta:rhetoric  aversion  discipline  curiosity  rigor  rationality  rat-pack  🤖  success  2016  farmers-and-foragers  exploration-exploitation  low-hanging  clarity  vague  🦉  optimate  systematic-ad-hoc  metameta  s:***  discovery  focus  info-dynamics  hari-seldon 
december 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
The Day Before Forever | West Hunter
Yesterday, I was discussing the possibilities concerning slowing, or reversing aging – why it’s obviously possible, although likely a hard engineering problem. Why partial successes would be valuable, why making use of the evolutionary theory of senescence should help, why we should look at whales and porcupines as well as Jeanne Calment, etc., etc. I talked a long time – it’s a subject that has interested me for many years.

But there’s one big question: why are the powers that be utterly uninterested ?

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/the-best-things-in-life-are-cheap-today/
What if you could buy an extra year of youth for a million bucks (real cost). Clearly this country ( or any country) can’t afford that for everyone. Some people could: and I think it would stick in many people’s craw. Even worse if they do it by harvesting the pineal glands of children and using them to manufacture a waxy nodule that forfends age.

This is something like the days of old, pre-industrial times. Back then, the expensive, effective life-extender was food in a famine year.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/the-big-picture/
Once upon a time, I wrote a long spiel on life extension – before it was cool, apparently. I sent it off to an interested friend [a science fiction editor] who was at that time collaborating on a book with a certain politician. That politician – Speaker of the House, but that could be anyone of thousands of guys, right? – ran into my spiel and read it. His immediate reaction was that greatly extending the healthy human life span would be horrible – it would bankrupt Social Security ! Nice to know that guys running the show always have the big picture in mind.

Reminds me of a sf story [Trouble with Lichens] in which something of that sort is invented and denounced by the British trade unions, as a plot to keep them working forever & never retire.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/04/16/he-still-has-that-hair/
He’s got the argument backward: sure, natural selection has not favored perfect repair, so says the evolutionary theory of of senescence. If it had, then we could perhaps conclude that perfect repair was very hard to achieve, since we don’t see it, at least not in complex animals.* But since it was not favored, since natural selection never even tried, it may not be that difficult.

Any cost-free longevity gene that made you live to be 120 would have had a small payoff, since various hazards were fairly likely to get you by then anyway… And even if it would have been favored, a similar gene that cost a nickel would not have been. Yet we can afford a nickel.

There are useful natural examples: we don’t have to start from scratch. Bowhead whales live over 200 years: I’m not too proud to learn from them.

Lastly , this would take a lot of work. So what?

*Although we can invent things that evolution can’t – we don’t insist that all the intermediate stages be viable.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/aging/
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/suspicious-minds/

doesn't think much of Aubrey de Gray: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/of-mice-and-men/#comment-15832
I wouldn’t rely on Aubrey de Gray.

It might be easier to fix if we invested more than a millionth of a percent of GNP on longevity research. It’s doable, but hardly anyone is interested. I doubt if most people, including most MDs and biologists, even know that it’s theoretically possible.

I suppose I should do something about it. Some of our recent work ( Henry and me) suggests that people of sub-Saharan African descent might offer some clues – their funny pattern of high paternal age probably causes the late-life mortality crossover, it couldn’t hurt to know the mechanisms involved.

Make Room! Make Room!: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2015/06/24/make-room-make-room/
There is a recent article in Phys Rev Letters (“Programed Death is Favored by Natural Selection in Spatial Systems”) arguing that aging is an adaptation – natural selection has favored mechanisms that get rid of useless old farts. I can think of other people that have argued for this – some pretty smart cookies (August Weismann, for example, although he later abandoned the idea) and at the other end of the spectrum utter loons like Martin Blaser.

...

There might could be mutations that significantly extended lifespan but had consequences that were bad for fitness, at least in past environments – but that isn’t too likely if mutational accumulation and antagonistic pleiotropy are the key drivers of senescence in humans. As I said, we’ve never seen any.

more on Martin Blaser:
https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/nasty-brutish-but-not-that-short/#comment-7514
This is off topic, but I just read Germs Are Us and was struck by the quote from Martin Blaser ““[causing nothing but harm] isn’t how evolution works” […] “H. pylori is an ancestral component of humanity.”
That seems to be the assumption that the inevitable trend is toward symbiosis that I recall from Ewald’s “Plague Time”. My recollection is that it’s false if the pathogen can easily jump to another host. The bulk of the New Yorker article reminded me of Seth Roberts.

I have corresponded at length with Blaser. He’s a damn fool, not just on this. Speaking of, would there be general interest in listing all the damn fools in public life? Of course making the short list would be easier.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/dirty-old-men/#comment-64117
I have corresponded at length with Blaser. He’s a damn fool, not just on this. Speaking of, would there be general interest in listing all the damn fools in public life? Of course making the short list would be easier.
enhancement  longevity  aging  discussion  west-hunter  scitariat  multi  thermo  death  money  big-picture  reflection  bounded-cognition  info-dynamics  scifi-fantasy  food  pinker  thinking  evolution  genetics  nature  oceans  inequality  troll  lol  chart  model-organism  shift  smoothness  🌞  🔬  track-record  low-hanging  aphorism  ideas  speculation  complex-systems  volo-avolo  poast  people  paternal-age  life-history  africa  natural-experiment  mutation  genetic-load  questions  study  summary  critique  org:nat  commentary  parasites-microbiome  disease  elite  tradeoffs  homo-hetero  contrarianism  history  medieval  lived-experience  EEA  modernity  malthus  optimization 
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
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]
healthcare  medicine  concept  street-fighting  wiki  trends  drugs  pharma  hmm  meta:medicine  stylized-facts  low-hanging  stagnation  discovery  info-dynamics 
september 2016 by nhaliday
Shut Up And Guess - Less Wrong
At what confidence level do you guess? At what confidence level do you answer "don't know"?

I took several of these tests last month, and the first thing I did was some quick mental calculations. If I have zero knowledge of a question, my expected gain from answering is 50% probability of earning one point and 50% probability of losing one half point. Therefore, my expected gain from answering a question is .5(1)-.5(.5)= +.25 points. Compare this to an expected gain of zero from not answering the question at all. Therefore, I ought to guess on every question, even if I have zero knowledge. If I have some inkling, well, that's even better.

You look disappointed. This isn't a very exciting application of arcane Less Wrong knowledge. Anyone with basic math skills should be able to calculate that out, right?

I attend a pretty good university, and I'm in a postgraduate class where most of us have at least a bachelor's degree in a hard science, and a few have master's degrees. And yet, talking to my classmates in the cafeteria after the first test was finished, I started to realize I was the only person in the class who hadn't answered "don't know" to any questions.

even more interesting stories in the comments
street-fighting  lesswrong  yvain  essay  rationality  regularizer  len:short  ratty  stories  higher-ed  education  decision-theory  frontier  thinking  spock  biases  pre-2013  low-hanging  decision-making  mental-math  bounded-cognition  nitty-gritty  paying-rent  info-dynamics  analytical-holistic  quantitative-qualitative 
september 2016 by nhaliday

bundles : abstractpatterns

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