(Oh, and lack of time or a sane interface means I’ll not be hot-linking much. Sorry.)
At last, a stab in the direction of a predictions registry. ”Think you've got the gift of foresight? The Washington Post
Predictify, which launched in 2007, goes beyond basic polling systems by integrating discussion features and monitoring a users' accuracy score across the entire service. While there isn't currently a way to weight one question more than another, the site's algorithm does take into account the type of question and the accuracy rate of participants. To offer an incentive for users to take part in the polls, the site has also implemented a premium program that allows companies to sponsor a poll and reward the most accurate participants with cash. In return, these sponsors are entitled to the demographics data that the service asks for with each vote. “
Note, this lacks most of the added features that could turn something like Predictify into a truly useful tool for accomplishing what society really needs:
systematic ways to appraise predictive success/failure.
ways to overcome natural human feigning, backdating and retro-disavowal.
sufficient attractiveness to draw in a large critical mass of participants.
a widely-accepted way to “out” those who claim predictive acumen, but refuse appraisal or accountability.
discovery of “3-sigma” forecasters so attention can be given to their methods.
rewarding “2-sigma” people with greater access to those in power.
Predictify appears to take some baby steps toward a few of these desiderata -- baby steps that could be so much more.
In contrast, for all of the hype that has recently been given to “prediction markets,” they in fact make almost no efforts toward achieving these goals. Indeed, their entire drive is in other directions.
See an interesting - if shallow - New York Times Magazine essay about “The Trolls Among Us” - profiling some of the “types” who choose to bushwack other people on the Net, the way their ancestors would lurk behind bushes (if they were poor) or simply grab victims openly (if they were lords). Oh, we’ve had a few troll problems here. But that’s not the segue. It is about so many things we’ve discussed here. Transparency & accountability. Self-righteous indignation (google exactly those words.) And about “getting” what this civilization is about.
I have had issues with Bill Moyers, especially his disappointing sycophancy toward that infamous plagiarist and propagandist for oppressive, feudal-romantic, storytelling-uniformity, Joseph Campbell. Still, Moyers does care and has loads of passion, reminding me a lot of my late “crusading-journalist” father. Hence, I feel it’s worth referring folks -- during an era when Edward R. Murrow is spinning in his grave -- to Moyers’s latest offering. A Hippocratic Oath for Journalists. (Thanks Mel.)
One of my casual mini-essays -- written in response to a debate on John Brockman’s site THE EDGE, has raised some ripples. Based on Nicholas Carr’s cover story in the Atlantic: “Is Google making us Stoopid?” Have a look at responses by Danny Hillis, Clay Shirky, Larry Sanger and yours truly.
And see my new EDGE posting, taking issue with another cyber grough. Mark Pesce.
Oh, I have a few of these (Extraterrestrial Civilizations) in stock. Maybe I can retire!
From the Transparency Front: Last month, PeopleFinders, a 20-year-old company based in Sacramento, introduced http://CriminalSearches.com/, a free service to satisfy those common impulses. The site, which is supported by ads, lets people search by name through criminal archives of all 50 states and 3,500 counties in the United States.... A quick check of the database confirms that it is indeed imperfect. Some records are incomplete, and there is often no way to distinguish between people with the same names if you don’t know their birthdays (and even that date is often missing)....
A cool academic conference that may actually show a few sparks, next year, is the Ninth History of Astronomy Workshop, at Notre Dame, Indiana, July 8 - 12, 2009. Eminent SETI scholar Michael Crowe is among the organizers.
Misc science alert: Rapid changes in the churning movement of Earth's liquid outer core are weakening the magnetic field in some regions of the planet's surface, a new study says. For true?
Catch this promising vertical algae reactor!
And the violinist spoof in the subway. You’ve heard of it. Still, ponder it again. We need to lift our heads more and be open to the unusual.
And now an example of how many ways that even smart people misunderstand the Enlightenment. Even its defenders!
The New Scientist Magazine lists - Seven Reasons Why People Hate Reason. “From religious fundamentalism to pseudoscience, it seems that forces are attacking the Enlightenment world view – characterized by rational, scientific thinking – from all sides. The debate seems black and white: you’re either with reason, or you’re against it. But is it so simple? In a series of special essays, our contributors look more carefully at some of the most provocative charges against reason.”
See: Why people hate reason.
Alas, even in the very first paragraph, the New Scientist team illustrates the fault of accepting false definitions and thus creating a lose-lose situation for your side, from the very start. Because, in fact, it is flat-out wrongheaded to claim that “reason” is the fundamental premise of the Enlightenment!
Indeed, by basing a defense of the Enlightenment on a defense of reason, we expose it to justified doubt, and possibly even great harm.
Oh, certainly , “reason” played a role in the long fight against feudal and theocratic bullying. When the first universities of Europe rediscovered the Greek classics, via Arabic translators, in the 13th Century, the socratic logic espoused by Plato became a rallying point for the first great western Youth Movement, pushing back against dark, ecclesiastical mysticism. And yet, of course, Plato was no friend of democratic values. Indeed, his so-called “reason” has always been dubious, elitist, tendentious and easy to poke full-of-holes. Amounting to a ritualistic pattern of incantations, platonism has proved a powerfully seductive force for rationalization and subjective self-fulfillment. An underpinning for “philosophical” calamities like Hegel.
Sometimes logic -- and especially its cousin, mathematics -- can suggest useful directions of interest, pointing science, philosophy and political thought toward new doors, new thresholds. It can be especially useful as a negative tool, to pillory and demolish really awful positions. Still, through hard experience, we have learned that logic and reason can only suggest, propose, refute, perhaps stimulate, but it is far more limited than its greatest adherents suggest. Because no model built out of words can truly describe, let alone predict, the complex behavior of physical systems, let alone those made up of intricately-interacting human beings. Outside of math itself, logic and reason cannot be relied upon to prove anything.
Alas, a large part of the Enlightenment movement -- the branch led by continental scholars of France and Germany -- bought into the notion of pure reason. From Descartes to Sartre, they focused on logical incantations that always just happened to “prove” preconceived beliefs. Marxism, Nazissm and dozens of other tragedies emerged out of this fundamental mistake -- the notion that you can prove things with words.
(And don’t I often try to do exactly that? O, it is seductive, all right!)
Fortunately, the movement had its own version of the Protestant Reformation, a rift that saved it, when the Anglo-Scottish-Dutch wing branched off, declaring fealty instead to Pragmatism. To empiricism and the preeminence of experiment over theory. Oh, this wing had its own desperate follies -- like Radical Behaviorism and Logical Positivism. Still, the chief overall result was a system or zeitgeist that could adapt to new developments, quickly discover mistakes, subject earlier assumptions to criticism, and negotiate new solutions to problems.
Hence, I find it tragic and disappointing that the editors of The New Scientist -- a British based publication -- should fall for the rhetorical trap of defending reason as the core element of the modern Enlightenment. All it does is set things up so that all of the legitimate complaints against reason can be used as weapons against something much bigger and more important. Against the far greater and more important Pragmatic Enlightenment that has brought us so very far, and let us earn so very much.
And now, a micro-essay-rant! (That I had tucked in a corner, meaning to spiff it up. Well, maybe not...)
THE RETURN OF THE UNCONSCIOUS....
One hundred years ago, the world was obsessed with the notion of the unconscious mind. Sigmund Freud was only the most prominent of a veritable wave of intellectuals, sages and scientists promoting the notion that we - each of us - consist of multiple layers, components or sub-selves, many of them in conflict with each other. Or keeping secrets from each other. The notion influenced both capitalists and Marxists. It propelled the social movements of the Roaring Twenties and gave millions an explanation for the Madness of the Great War.
At one level, this was a clear and epochal breakthrough. In his original INTRODUCTORY LECTURES, Freud spent many pages leading medical students through a series of simple experiments designed to demonstrate to each of them the existence of their own unconscious minds. This was Freud at his best, before he spun off, down paths of fantasy, self-delusion, sex obsession and downright, domineering guru-dom -- all displayed vividly in his later NEW INTRODUCTORY LECTURES. (Thus, unintentionally demonstrating some of the pitfalls that await any human who is lured by adulation away from the collegial criticism of science.) Today, you have only to see the wild ways that people leap to misinterpret each other -- in an argument or when skimming blogs or emails -- to witness the old unconscious in action. Or, ever notice how -- at a party -- the buzz of conversation fades into background... until somebody mentions your name? Clearly, much is going on, beneath the surface. Only part of your mental process is accessible to the melange that you blithely call “me.”
So why do we discuss the unconscious so little, nowadays? For one thing, there seemed to be no clear model of why the inner self would be secretive, concealing itself and even playing nasty tricks upon the upper-outer personality. A myriad sub-theories suggested different fundamental motivators for this, from Freud’s inherent sexual conflict to Adler’s power theory to Jung’s mystical archetypes, to traumatization of immortal cosmic souls by mind-warping technologies used by the evil Lord Xenu. In their rush to find a universal, general process or cause, the authors of these explanations reflexively avoided anything even remotely resembling falsifiability, scientific testing, or any reference to the Darwinian evolution that made us.
And then, along came psychopharmacology. At first, new drugs seemed to replicate the effects of psychotherapy, while therapy seemed to elicit changes in brain chemistry -- a chicken and egg situation that was bemusing... till newer drugs seemed to win the argument, hands down. In part because of better fine tuning, but also because therapy -- and especially psychoanalysis -- were so time consuming, expensive, and based upon a domineering style that was out of tune with a more liberated, individualistic era.
Finally, somebody seems to get it! ON DEEP HISTORY AND THE BRAIN, by Daniel Lord Smail, suggests that we constantly trigger altered mental states, simply because they are self-reinforcing... or possibly addictive. Excerpted from a review: ”By snorting -- suddenly creating a sound -- the slack-minded horse elicits an automatic “startle response” — flooding its brain with chemicals, delivering a jolt of excitement and relieving, at least for a moment, the monotony of a long day in an empty field. If horses can alter their own brain chemistries at will (and have good reasons to do so), what about human beings? In “On Deep History and the Brain,” Daniel Lord Smail suggests that human history can be understood as a long, unbroken sequence of snorts and sighs and other self-modifications of our mental states. We want to alter our own moods and feelings, and the rise of man from hunter-gatherer and farmer to office worker and video-game adept is the story of the ever proliferating devices — from coffee and tobacco to religious rites and romance novels — we’ve acquired to do so. Humans, Smail writes, have invented “a dizzying array of practices that stimulate the production and circulation of our own chemical messengers,” and those devices have become more plentiful with time. We make our own history, albeit with neurotransmitters not of our choosing.”
All of which is deeply connected to my longstanding assertion that such inner states give an entirely different perspective on addiction in human beings. (Anybody know how to contact this Harvard professor?)
Okay, that’s a whole bunch or raw meat, tossed into the pool. I may check in, under comments, once or twice. But otherwise, I’ll be taking a break for a week or two. You folks keep the community fizzing, yes? I’m sure there will be lively discussions.
Oh! Some time it a few months, I think it really will be time to ditch Blogger and get a really good blog client onto http://www.davidbrin.com. We can discuss it in the fall.
Now go yank-awake some ostriches... nicely.... ;-)