Sunday, May 18, 2014

10 Things I wish I had known 20 years ago – Science Edition

The blogosphere thrives with advice for your younger self. Leaving aside lottery numbers and such, the older selves know this haircut was a really bad idea, you’ll eternally regret cheating on the nice guy, and you will never be that young again. This made me wonder which scientific knowledge I wish I had had already as a teenager. Leaving aside the scientific equivalent of sending lottery numbers back in time and recommend, say, that I have a close look at those type Ia supernovae, here’s my top 10:

  1. The fundamental theorems of welfare economics and Arrow’s impossibility theorem.

    I was absolutely disinterested in economics and sociology as a teenager. After reading some books on microeconomics, welfare economics, and social choice theory, the world made dramatically more sense to me. That’s how the hamster wheel works, and that’s the root of most of the quarrels in politics. Now my problem is that I don’t understand why most people don’t understand this...

  2. Exoplanets!

    Are much more common than anybody expected when I was a teenager. This has really changed the way I perceive our place in the universe, and I guess that this topic gets so much coverage in the media because this is the case for many people.

  3. Medicine is not a science.

    I was only after I read about the ‘recent’ field of ‘evidence based medicine’ that I realized I had falsely assumed medical practice is rooted in scientific evidence. Truth is, for the most part it’s not. Medicine isn’t a science, it’s a handcraft, and this is only slowly changing. You are well advised to check the literature for yourself.

  4. Most drugs are not tested on women.

    Pharma companies often don’t test drugs on women because changing hormone levels make it more difficult to find statistically significant effects. The result is that little is known about how the female body reacts differently to drugs than the male body. In many cases the recommended doses of certain medicines tend to be way too high for me, and had I known this earlier I would have trusted my body, not the label.

  5. Capsaicin isn’t water soluble.

    The stuff that makes Chili spicy doesn’t wash off with water, it takes alcohol or fat to get it off your tongue. Yes, this did make my life much better...

  6. Genetics.

    I wish I had known back then what I know today about genetic predispositions, eg that introversion, pain tolerance, response to training, and body odor have genetic factors, and I wish I had had a chance to have my DNA sampled 20 years ago.

    The default assumption that I, and I think most people, bring is that other people’s experiences are similar to our own. It never occurred to me, for example, that the other kids weren’t overdramatizing, they were really hurting more. Just by looking at my daughters I would bet that Lara got my pain tolerance while Gloria didn’t, and I can tell that Lara doesn’t mean to hurt Gloria, she just doesn’t believe it hurts as much as Gloria screams. And after reading Cain’s book that covers the correlation between introversion and a neurological trait called ‘high sensitivity’ I could finally stop wondering what is wrong with me.

  7. You probably have no free will, but it’s no reason to worry.

    Took me two decades to wrap my mind around this. Tough one.

  8. Most people talk to themselves.

    Psychologists call it the ‘internal monologue’. How was I supposed to know that pretty much everybody does that?

  9. Adaptive Systems.

    Adaptive systems are basically a generalization of the process of mutation and natural selection. This was really helpful to understand much of the changes in institutions and organizations, and all the talk about incentives. It also reveals that many of our problems stem from our inability to adapt. This is basically what gave rise to my this year’s FQXi essay.

  10. That guy really smells good.

    It was long believed that humans do not detect pheromones because the respective nerve is missing. Alas, MRI imaging settled the dispute in the 90s. The nerve, now called 'Cranial Nerve Zero' does exist. But note that while both, the olfactory and the zero nerve, end in the nostrils, the olfactory nerve does not detect pheromones and the nerves wire to different areas of the brain. Exactly what influence pheromones have on humans is still an active subject of study.

27 comments:

Uncle Al said...

"1. The fundamental theorems of welfare economics and Arrow’s impossibility theorem. " Economics: somebody knows what is large scale going on. Central authority can administer an economy while "doing right" for those who do not invest in it. Luboš Motl has a word for that: bullšit (Czech on that!).

"8. Most people talk to themselves." Few have anything interesting to say, and most of those are eager to share. Politicians have nothing to say, and only talk to others.

Ori Vandewalle said...

Medicine is not as scientific as people would like it to be, but this is changing. Check out Steven Novella's science-based medicine if you want to see the people trying to change it.

Bar said...

I don't see how one reconciles lack of free will with the abundance of choices given to even the most primitive consciousness. It serves no purpose to have pheromones if you are destined to exchange your DNA based on a purely deterministic scheme.

Don Foster said...

“You probably have no free will, but it’s no reason to worry.”

At this point I can only hope that you awake some morning with shoulders unburdened by this notion – leaving your head, of course.

Best,

L. Edgar Otto said...

Don,
Where and when between hope dreams and long sleep do we reach a crossover before awakening?
In the Now perhaps unto vanishing or cycles of reawakening?

These are issues of thunder and lightening at the frontier of cosmology and philosophy gathered in our day.
For those of us who choose to stick around what more can we do to adapt but explore our inner past or that of society at a sense of distance?

Or those younger or different around us as our ages grow closer together.? I am amused on how so many are caught up in their vagina dialogs and viagra monologues as they map their destinies where all dreams come together in their fish brains.

I would have told my veteran fishing buddies let's find away to make these mobile phones and not be stopped unable to afford both the electronics and the building. Then again like the few seeds cast into the future - the founders forgotten by the overflowing Bible church we cannot escape the feeling looking back that like cell phones we create an era and monster.

Again Sabine raises for us essential questions. I did not foresee this one though it bids us to take a deeper look as we press our snooze alarm yet again.

Somewhere in the integration of what we face or forget we skipping stones on a sea of uncertainty, our diverging fast and slow lanes of information it may not ultimatelly matter if we can guarentee both or either of the message and messenger.

Phil Warnell said...

If one is talking to oneself shouldn't that be considered as a dialogue not a monologue. I guess it's a monologue if only the inner voice does all the talking. Now for me often there is s debate going on:-) Also it would be interesting to know when this first arose in the development of our species.

Arun said...

"Deterministic" could mean that the most efficient algorithm to compute the future could be computationally intractable. That is why, don't worry, be happy.

JimV said...

"It serves no purpose to have pheromones if you are destined to exchange your DNA based on a purely deterministic scheme."

Why can't pheromones be part of what determines the determinism?

Yes we have choices, but we are doomed always to pick the ones that seem best to us, usually for deterministic reasons.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Bar:

You cannot not make choices. Making choices has nothing to do with free will. Your phone makes choices when it calculates the shortest route that it recommends you take. "Purpose" is a human construct. It doesn't fundamentally make any sense. Best,

B.

L. Edgar Otto said...

JimV,
sounds like you have never found yourself hiking 800 miles to see a gal you loved even though you knew she probably did not care that much about you. :-)
I agree with Hawking when he said Woman was one of the greatest mysteries - and yet excluded from the research (medical). May you we lucky in Love if not lucky in the cards.

Plato Hagel said...

Well if you wanted to create automatons then programmable DNA, being the same and having no freewill would be awesome?:)

But it doesn't work that way.

Best,

Plato Hagel said...

Well about the internal dialogue, I think Phil, I would rather it be with the higher self given a monologue would just be you physically talking?


Best,

sshawnuff said...

Maybe Niklas Luhmann's work on social systems could be of some interest for you, Sabine, just in case you never heard about it before.

Mats Bergenhov said...

Sabine,

I think it should be: you cannot not feel that you make choices.
Without free will your choice is an illusion. With free will it isn´t. If your phone had a choice it wouldn´t work!

Best

L. Edgar Otto said...

Mats,

So, if we cannot resolve the fire wall horizon paradox it is solved, and if we can it is not solved?
At singularity for our thought experiments we do face a single and original fundamental choice as do machine and codes rarely.
The phones would work this side of a more general theory. But as you seem to have determined this feeling or fact of thinking have you asked yourself if your thought is working?

chimpanzee said...

Universities are run like Corporations -- Money, Power, Greed

"There was never any question about the validity of that line in my mind. Since MBAs began running companies in the 80's instead of engineers the focus of many major corporations shifted to the bottom line instead of product excellence. Great for investors and boardrooms, not so great for consumers. But that's just like, my opinion man."
-- Turbowagon

The Ivey Memo: The Original Cold Document That Made GM Squirm
http://jalopnik.com/the-ivey-memo-the-original-cold-document-that-made-gm-1559089963

Response to Turbowagon:

"As an engineer who has already experienced the effects of MBA's in both a research environment at a (public) university, and at the industrial level, I could not agree more. Between MBA's and finance/economics majors, we've completely lost sight of what really matters, and it doesn't look like slowing down anytime soon."
-- SeaOfAshes

chimpanzee said...

Universities are run like Corporations -- Money, Power, Greed

"There was never any question about the validity of that line in my mind. Since MBAs began running companies in the 80's instead of engineers the focus of many major corporations shifted to the bottom line instead of product excellence. Great for investors and boardrooms, not so great for consumers. But that's just like, my opinion man."
-- Turbowagon

The Ivey Memo: The Original Cold Document That Made GM Squirm
http://jalopnik.com/the-ivey-memo-the-original-cold-document-that-made-gm-1559089963

Response to Turbowagon:

"As an engineer who has already experienced the effects of MBA's in both a research environment at a (public) university, and at the industrial level, I could not agree more. Between MBA's and finance/economics majors, we've completely lost sight of what really matters, and it doesn't look like slowing down anytime soon."
-- SeaOfAshes

JimV said...

"...sounds like you have never found yourself hiking 800 miles to see a gal you loved even though you knew she probably did not care that much about you."

I didn't say that the choice which seemed best was always based on logic.

JimV said...

Follow-up: I have made choices (gambles) where my odds of winning seemed low, but I imagined that the thrill of winning would be much, much greater than not feeling the disappointment of losing.

The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio tells of a case study in which a patient had lost the ability to feel emotions due to a brain tumor (I think to the amygdala) and was unable to make most decisions. For example, when asked to make a move at chess, he could tell a good move from a bad move but didn't care whether he won or lost, so couldn't decide what to do.

Apparently, if emotions did not exist, evolution would have had to invent them - so it did, and most decisions are based on them.

L. Edgar Otto said...

I keep thinking: What would I tell my present self if I could from a generation or so into the future?
Somehow this more complicated view is present over all moments.
I find it interesting commenters focus on the free will part of the topic.
Noether said the purpose of s photon is to find a minimum action path thus symmetry and conservation laws on the group of a sphere.
Best guess is at naked singularity determinism (super) and teleology (purpose) meet as one idea. Beyond that we may not now see. Yet one thing I now can see is what I forgot of what hopeful projects I even recently felt. That is something like quantization in the mix.

Mats Bergenhov said...


L.Edgar Otto,

The conscious (the I)is not agent.

Best

Vincent van der Goes said...

Since you're interested in economics, I highly recommend you to read up on prospect theory. This is about how people generally tend to make their choices when facing risks.

Briefly put, the rational way to behave is described by Expected Utility theory and the actual way that people behave is modelled quite accurately by prospect theory. One reason this is interesting is because it is one of the most succesfull attempts to date to describe psychological biases with a mathematical model. It explains (among others) why many people like to gamble (which only makes sense if you're risk loving), but at the same time buy insurances (which means you're trying to avoid risk). It turns out that we tend to misrepresent probabilities in our mind in a systematic way.

Anyway, recommended reading material. ;-)

L. Edgar Otto said...

Mat and all,
my blog. Pesla. blogspot.com is active again.
There is a small story there today where I recall thinking about my life to come.
programmable DNA? No I as San active agent?
The dreaming universe becomes a long lonely place as awareness decays into wider tablecloth dimensions.
Outside the sugar cloak and spiral unfolding we read our hardware, inside we imagine an I like us, a master over code bidding us follow into transcendence.

Sphere and Cone, Plato and Hegel - Marx ontology is one with cosmological imperfections.
Science daily notes a magic protein winds the DNA and fertility longivity linked. It is wound deeper in the male seed. Information like generational particle spin.
But there is no little man inside who is the agent.
Best, good inquiring.

Greg Metcalfe said...

@Vincent van der Goes:

Can you recommend something with error bars? No sarcasm intended.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Mats,

Depends on what you mean with choice. What I mean with 'choice' is input processing and converting it into an action. You take in, eg, visual information about your surrounding and then you go either left or right. I call that a choice. What you are referring to is what I call 'free will', ie the question whether you could have made any other choice. Best,

B.

hush said...

Shhh!
In Bee's Blog we have...

RANDOM Thoughts!!!

Bee:
For lack of a better label!
Now hush!

For all twins.
It' fine to exchange blows.

The unwritten rule between all twins is no bruises.
If you see a bruise after a blow, you went too far. And your twin will have direct evidence to turn the verdict of parents against you with the next exchange of blows.

That's why direct evidence is called BECIP2 ...too much muscle - see next blog.

Great, insightful reflections.

MAZEDA KHATUN said...

It was long believed that humans do not defect pheromones because the respective never is missing . Exactly what influence pheromones have on humans is still an active subject study. thanks.