Saturday, January 31, 2015

Marvels of the Universe

I just returned from Cape Canaveral for a meeting of NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts group, where I am on the Council of External Advisors.  NIAC is the small team within NASA charged with taking big risks (with little money) on highly speculative and "far-out" potential technologies. Small seed grants are handed over for clever (and a few almost-crackpot) endeavors that might bear fruit some distance down the road.

Past grants have included ventures in quantum entanglement communication, "torpor" suspension of human metabolic activity, haptic-reactive space suits, submarines for Titan and Europa, prodigious space telescopes, extrusion-construction of girders in space, and a supersonic jet that swivels 90 degrees in order to land!  Some prove to be... well... blue sky. Others have won major followup investment from agencies and even industry, such as a way to "print" concrete buildings on Earth, or do the same with sintered regolith on the moon. Be proud to be a member of a civilization that invests (modestly) in notions on the borderline with science fiction!

 Tune in to watch some of this year's presentations -- including glimpses of Buzz Aldrin, Frank Drake, Penny Boston and me (et al) asking questions.


== More excitement from space! ==


Despite major efforts to diss science and to turn us against each other and pump up cynicism (admit it: many of you wallow in that drug), our civilization is actually doing great things! Here's just one of many cures for that vile high of cynicism.


Everybody watch these 90 seconds: Space Suite -- using stunning images from NASA and ESA -- with 3D image processing by visual artist Lucas Green.  A lovely reminder of our ambitions to explore... and seek out strange new worlds...

You get to be a member of a civilization that does stuff like this. I cannot reiterate that too often. Your civilization did this.  Yours. And your neighbors are not sheep. (Well, a lot of em aren't.)

Also, zoom in on the gorgeous super-high-resolution panoramic view of the Andromeda Galaxy: Gigapixels of Andromeda, the largest image ever compiled of our neighboring galaxy. Awe-inspiring!

Cynical despair is just plain dumb.

== Making the universe show herself! ==

Going to the Ends of the Earth to Discover the Beginning of Time: Watch this wonderful TEDx talk by my pal Brian Keating, professor of astrophysics at UCSD, whose membership in both teams that probed the first trillionth  of a trillionth of a second of the universe, already has him under discussion in the preliminary, penumbral zones of Nobel-dom! 

Okay, it's a wild ride and maybe the results were premature.  Certainly, science is doing its proper job -- applying competitive reciprocal criticism to test and double test bold assertions! (Exactly as it has been doing re Climate Change.) So, I guess we'll just find out!  No movie plot could be more exciting.


Still... Brian does a wonderful job explaining new developments in cosmology... culminating in a way-cool/fun stunt at the end!  You will have fun! That's not just a prediction, but a command!
  
== Cosmetology! How about them cosmets! ==

Here's a stunning look at the cliffs of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, imaged by ESA's recent Rosetta mission.  They shock even this comet expert. See the full collection of images on the ESA website. 

And yes, I would have been hip deep in the Rosetta-Philae data analysis right now... had you folks not dragged me (kicking and screaming) away from being a cometologist into doing storytelling and speechifying and industrial consulting and all that other blather, instead.  Ah, parallel worlds and might have beens. Sigh


== And plasmets! ==


After five years of searching, researchers using data from NASA's exoplanet-hunting Kepler spacecraft have discovered what look to be two of the most Earth-like worlds yet. Dubbed Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b, both planets appear to be rocky, and orbit in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold habitable zones of their stars, where liquid water can exist in abundance. Orbiting smaller-dimmer suns... Kepler-438b is only about 12 percent larger than the Earth, and basks in 40 percent more starlight. Kepler-442b is 30 percent larger than Earth and receives about 30 percent less starlight. (Note such suns sometimes have cycles of intense flare activity.)

A monster ring system just discovered around exoplanet J1407 is 200 times larger than the rings of Saturn!

Ultrascope is an automated robotic observatory (ARO) that you can laser-cut and 3D print at home. Future versions will be able to contribute to the Asteroid Grand Challenge.  See this and other cool NASA-related STEM projects at the Space Gambit Site!  Some of the projects are way, way cool!

Now to get them interested in the best of all — the EXORARIUM!

== Looking out into the cosmos == 

Here’s an interesting rumination on whether the galaxy may fill with advanced artificial intelligences - which can occupy deep space and use its resources - rather than the bio-entities that spawned them, after evolving on muddy worlds. The notion of self-replicating machines filling the stars goes back to Jones and Finney's classic paper around 1983, about how Von Neumann probes may replicate and fill the galaxy in just 30 million years.

In fact this concept has long been grist of scientific science fictional speculation.  Gregory Benford's Galactic Center series, for example, posits that that realm - lethal to bio life - might be the natural abode of advanced machine civilizations.  

My novel Existence explores this notion in detail, including whether such machines might be "lurking" in the asteroid belt.  And the Brightness Reef trilogy explores possible relationships between bio and machine civilizations on a galactic scale.

== ... and more space, more! ==


Kewl.  We proposed this in the 1980s.  Now President Obama wants it… using a railgun to launch scramjets to near orbit. 

Support the Sentinel Mission. Join a citizen-funded deep space mission to detect Near-Earth Asteroids! (I will be speaking to donors for this mission and the B612 Foundation, in San Jose, in February.)

Stay Tuned for a Group Message from Humanity: With NASA's New Horizons space probe arriving at Pluto, space artist Jon Lomberg is heading One Earth -- an effort to upload messages from Planet Earth. Sign here to add your voice.

Do manatees need spacesuits? The lead image in this article about the  may remind some of you of the first chapter of SUNDIVER.  But these fellows have more than enough delightful craziness of their own. The "Nonhuman Autonomous Space Agency" is a whimsical futurist speculation built on top of a serious thought experiment.

== SETI and the question of God ==

There's a truly stunning piece of drivel in the fast-sinking shipwreck that Rupert Murdoch has made of the former Wall Street Journal. One Eric Metaxas argues that the Fermi Paradox – the absence of any evidence (so far) of extraterrestrial civilizations – means there “must be a God.”  Quoth he: “As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, then 200, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.”

Given that Metaxas offers no citations, it is hard to trace what he means by “parameters” for life to develop. But as someone  who has been immersed in this field for 35 years, I have to say that he must have pulled such a number out of thin air… or somewhere else.  

In fact, every year the conditions for life in the universe seem more prevalent. Today scientists no longer believe you even need an Earth-like world in a “Goldilocks Zone” (and those zones are now much wider than we previously thought). Indeed, there may be a hundred “roofed worlds” or icy moons with sub-surface oceans, like Europa, for every Earth with its waters exposed to the sky.

But I’m not making the mistake of fact-debating silly people who lie about science in order to sway the gullible. We've seen that trick used to devastating effect, in ways that endanger all our children. Yes, even (especially) the children of carbon moguls.

 No, what puzzles me is a matter of basic logic. Like why Mr. Metaxas clearly wants Earth to be alone in the cosmos. Somehow, he has convinced himself that a vast universe of quadrillions of stars and planets is somehow better and more reflective of a great and creative deity if… if it is entirely sterile, except for one teensy dust ball, floating in one obscure corner, that somehow was chosen to receive a spark granted to no other place in all of that immensity.

Let’s leave out that it took the light from some of those stars billions of years to get here… I won’t cram into Mr. Metaxas’s mouth any claim that the Earth, nevertheless, is just six thousand years old. Though we know that is the formal dogma of his brand of fanaticism.

In the end, what depresses me is how immensely insulting to God their proposal is – that we should act all impressed with such a measly, small-minded, un-ambitious and teensy-parochial “creation!” When in fact the heavens are replete with glories suggesting that – well – if He is out there (and I ain't sayin'), then He/She/It is surely a whole lot bigger, more curious and more ambitious than the philosophy clung to by claustrophilic, narrow-minded Kindergarteners, terrified of the vastness of actual Creation.

== And from the celestrially ridiculous to the terrestrially... ==

Ah… Texas Sen. Ted Cruz now heads the Senate committee overseeing NASA. He is making a show of supporting "exploration" but he is part of the cult that all-too recently ordered NASA to drop the word "Earth" from all mission statements and to many Earth-sensing, environment and resource programs.  His "emphasis on exploration" has one goal, to renew that Bush era scheme, diverting all NASA eyes toward the Moon's useless desert and away from the only oasis of life that we know.

Finally, though... swerving to a magnificent "failure" that advanced us all tremendously... catch this amazing video footage of the "almost!" attempt of Elon's SpaceX first stage to land on a barge.  Clearly there are faults, but correctable ones, which makes this a case of "Hell yes, you get a cigar!"

76 comments:

David Brin said...

Laurent Weppe -- I answered your comment about the top 1% (actually 0.01%) and guillotines... in the previous comments section. You could reply here.

==
Oh... I can read French... somewhat. But do you feel this article in Le Monde was fair?

Faut-il augmenter les animaux?

http://internetactu.blog.lemonde.fr/2015/01/31/faut-il-augmenter-les-animaux/

K. Von DeWitt said...

Great linx; good words; grand thoughts.

Duncan Cairncross said...

To the previous posting

The "100" rich are not drooling idiots they simply have different objectives
Once they have enough comfort/luxury then the next thing they want is power over their fellows
Additional luxury is simply not worth the loss of advantage over their fellows

The stock market
IMHO there are two parts to the stock market
(1) The funding of new company's (IPO's)
(2) Trading in existing shares

(1) is a positive sum game - the money (resources) are spent on the tools to do something and everybody benefits (on average sometimes companies fail)

(2) Is a simple zero sum gambling game
If you make money it is because somebody has lost money or somebody has added more money to the game
Nothing is created

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan - 3) investing in shares already available is also positive sum. It isn't all about raising capital.

Short term trading is clearly a zero sum game - it is a casino.

Alex Tolley said...


Young Ellie: Dad, do you think there's people on other planets?

Ted Arroway: I don't know, Sparks. But I guess I'd say if it is just us... seems like an awful waste of space.

We now know habitable planets are not rare. Next step is to determine how common life is on these planets.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alex
Please explain
"investing in shares already available is also positive sum. It isn't all about raising capital"

To my mind this is classic "zero sum" nothing is created

Please explain to this thick engineer

Laurent Weppe said...

"Laurent Weppe -- I answered your comment about the top 1% (actually 0.01%) and guillotines... in the previous comments section. You could reply here."

I mostly agree that the present situation is a test for the upper class: but it's not simply a matter of intelligence, but of pugnacity, and it is (we are) failing it: its smarter members have so far proven way, waaaaay to pusillanimous toward the austerity fetichists and way too hesitant to call out the self-proclaimed paragons of capitalism whose goal is the entrenching of dynastic wealth and power, allowing dishonest demagogues with miracle cures that won't work (and often intents to demolish western democracies) to fill the void as the pain caused by supply-side policies keeps increasing.

***

"But do you feel this article in Le Monde was fair?"

You mean: fair about you and your ideas about uplifting?
If so I'd say it provides an accurate summary of what I've seen of your views

***

"Somehow, he has convinced himself that a vast universe of quadrillions of stars and planets is somehow better and more reflective of a great and creative deity if… if it is entirely sterile, except for one teensy dust ball"

That's because there's always been a subset of the religious crowd who indulge in hubristic self-worship: their anthropomorphic deity created the whole universe as a playing field for the exclusive enjoyment of its favored creations: themselves. God is Great, God is Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omniscient, but God can't do anything larger than its small-minded holier-than-thou zealots' limited imagination: that would bruise their ego.

David Brin said...

Duncan: "The "100" rich are not drooling idiots they simply have different objectives.."

The smartest, self-made billionaires who did it with tech or superior goods/services are largely democrats. Why?

1- Their "objectives" tend to be smartly positive sum and to be richer in the context of a vastly richer civilization, that creates vast numbers of skilled, middle class engineers who are unafraid of looking their boss in the eye while teaming to do cool things. This requires external-aimed ambition and some degree of satiability, both emblems of sanity.

By comparison, the goal of being top dog on a pile that is sinking into shit is "drooling idiotic."

2- Drooling idiocy also includes failure of imagination... that simply controlling some henchmen and politicians and mass media will serve as adequate protection when (not if) the prols radicalize. Which they simply WILL do, sooner or later, when some threshold is reached.

At which point there are only two ways to prevent revolution... by a proletariate that is now supremely technologically capable, including skills that Qaeda would envy, but can never achieve.

a) the Roosevelt option of moderate, reasonable reform, placating the masses with hugely successful co-opting of a gigantic and prosperous and mobile middle class. Or --

b) an utterly Orwellian state.

The greatest drooling idiocy is that the gopper rich never parse this out. In their clubs and private scenes, their circle-jerkings never actually work it out. It's one reason why I tried to portray INTELLIGENT oligarchs, taking all of this seriously, in EXISTENCE.

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan. Buying existing shares, or even new shares as rights issues, are +ve sum games as you are buying a piece of a company that is spinning off cash as dividends.
Just because someone sold you those shares does not make it a 0 sum game. Shares offer value as liquid assets, easily composed as bundles in mutual funds that maximize returns vs risk compared to single stock holdings, etc.

Trading is different because the short term nature of the holding means nothing happens with regard to investment.

Having said that, because of different tax regimes, buying selling on either side of dividend issues can offer +ve sum to both sides of the transaction.

There are lots of +ve sum games in finance, it isn't all 0 or -ve.

David Brin said...

Laurent it is true that the Gates-Buffett clade of loyal aristocrats appears to be far less focused, organized and determined than the Koch-Murdoch-Saudi cabal.

In what part of the world do you dwell?

d said...

Hi Alex - still don't understand
The money resources remain the same - no growth
Dividends are from the initial capital and company growth - unrelated to current value
(the fact that they tend to be thought of as a percentage of "value is irrelevant)
The fact that they are compact items of value (like jewels) is also irrelevant

Dr Brin
I agree with your comments about sensible goals
But goal setting is an individual thing
If it is more important to somebody to be able to lord it over other people then those decisions are "sensible"
Who was it who would
"Rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven" ?

locumranch said...



"Okay, it's a wild ride and maybe the results were premature (about the Inflationary Theory of the Universe being supportable) Certainly, science is doing its proper job -- applying competitive reciprocal criticism to test and double test bold assertions! Exactly as it has been doing re Climate Change".

(Or, perhaps you were right the first time when you admitted that "maybe the results were premature"?)

"In fact, every year the conditions for life in the universe seem more prevalent. Today scientists no longer believe you even need an Earth-like world in a “Goldilocks Zone” (for life to occur) and those zones are now much wider than we previously thought. Indeed, there may be a hundred “roofed worlds” or icy moons with sub-surface oceans, like Europa, for every Earth with its waters exposed to the sky."

(Or, maybe these so-called 'results', detailed by citation #1, that claim that climate change will adversely effect the Earth's Goldilocks Zone, are also a tad "premature"?)

In his recent commentary titled "Blizzapocalypsegeddon" (citation #2), Jon Stewart summarizes this lack of logic succinctly, by detailing how the original narrative persists "like dingle berries on a sheep's ass" even when subsequent evidence does not support the original prediction, which leaves us with this one over-ridding thought:

You get to be a member of a civilization that does stuff like this. I cannot reiterate that too often. Your get to be a member of a proud civilization that prefers its original narrative over facts, even when faced with mounting evidence to the contrary.

You, my friend, are one Enlightened, Highly Evolved & Metaxas-style Dingle Berry.


Best
____

Citation #1:
http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2013/mar/25/earth-is-closer-to-the-edge-of-suns-habitable-zone

Citation #2:
http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/nbzjjh/blizzapocalypsegeddon--15---the-white-erdammerung-

Laurent Weppe said...

"In what part of the world do you dwell?"

Right now: Nice (before that: Paris, San Francisco, Berlin, Budapest... to be frank, comfortable nomadism is not a perk I'd gladly give away).

And to be frank, Nice is one exemplary social pressure cooker: lots of wealthy insular communities in and around the city standing right next to middle-class and dirt-poor neighborhoods, a local ruling-class completely incestuous who empty the city coffers in pharaonic projects (and let's not even begin with the corruption scandals some of which would be clownish if they did not squander taxpayers' money), a white lower-class whose members often vote for the far-right in the hope that they'll give them privileged access to what little wealth has not yet been monopolized by the upper-class at the expanse of the large but not very politicized immigrant population. The french Riviera is... not so pretty when you wander away from the tourist traps.

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan - The money resources remain the same - no growth

I don't understand this comment. Somewhere you seem to be suggesting that companies are not good investments at all.

Frederic Janssens said...

Dr. Brin :
"do you feel this article in Le Monde was fair?"

Seems pretty fair to me.
It does lean towards the views exposed by Jamais Cascio in

http://www.openthefuture.com/2014/12/not_very_uplifting.html
Not Very Uplifting

especially towards the end :

"What rights should any of these types of uplifted animals have?
...
It would be easy to draw the line if the uplifted animals exhibit human-like behavior -- complex communication, for example, or the creation of art -- but what about intelligence-boosted animals that exhibit forms of higher intelligence that don't readily map to human-specific behavior but are clearly beyond what a typical animal of that species could do? When do we give them a say in their own lives?
...
What it's not is a science fiction question for our distant descendants. This is happening now, and these issues need to be addressed now."

they then refer to

http://interspecies-internet.org/

as the sort of project that could lead to a pragmatic answer to the question
"When do we give them a say in their own lives?"

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alex

If you started a company then tucked the share certificates under a boulder somewhere the company would go on it's merry way adding value.
The company is a positive sum "thing"

The share certificates are just tokens
Selling and buying tokens is simply a zero sum activity

There are instances where the tokens do interfere with the company
When a predatory takeover ends up in stripping the company for instance
Or when a company issues more shares to increase it's capital

IMHO the stock market performs an essential service in providing the funds for new companies
BUT
That is only a tiny tiny fraction of the stock market's activities
The rest is simply a gambling game with significant negative sum outcomes

The proposed financial transaction tax would help this by requiring the gamblers to pay for their sport

locumranch said...


Good to have you & your disparate views on board, Laurent. Know your area well, even went to a nearby foreign school run by an infamous pederast, found that morality is mostly veneer or artifice, a hard lesson of which most progressives seem incapable, believing as they do in rights provided by others.

Best

David Brin said...

Dividends mean stocks traded downstream do have value. But The sale does NOT "raise capital" for the company. It simply sets the price for any NEW stock issued by the company.

Hence there should be Zero tax benefits or subsidies for stack exchanges, only for the purchase of NEW shares, which benefit the issuing company.

Current stockholders still would benefit! Yes, new issuance dilutes their % ownership. But it presumably is spent in ways that capitalize the company and increase value.

But the buy-sell of old shares is the traders' own business and "gambling". It merits no subsidy.

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan If you started a company then tucked the share certificates under a boulder somewhere the company would go on it's merry way adding value.
The company is a positive sum "thing"
The share certificates are just tokens
Selling and buying tokens is simply a zero sum activity


But shares are not tokens, they are a legal claim on the company's assets.
When you buy a share, you are buying a [risky] claim on the assets and expected return.

Why is this +ve sum?

Let us assume that the company is high growth, and offers no dividends, but its expected return is 20% pa.
You buy the shares and you get a paper return of 20% per year as the share rise in price. Because the shares can be sold and the buyer would also expect that 20% return, the shares are liquid and you can receive that return by selling the shares.

So both you and the new buyer receive a 20% return on capital with is a +ve sum game.

But there is more! You may have been happy to get 20% because you didn't need to consume dividends. Now however, you want to retire and receive just a cash flow. So you now buy stock with an annual dividends and no capital growth. This allows you to consume the returns without effort. The type of return is matched to your utility.

We needn't use shares, because they are just riskier versions o other assets, e.g. bonds, annuities, etc.

Bottom line is that your artificial characterization of stock certificates is incorrect. If it were so, there would be no market in them.

While we can do work that we deliberately misunderstand because our livelihood depends on it, in my case spending time in the financial markets and peripheral activities, as well as teaching corporate finance at a university, I think I have looked at enough arguments to satisfy me that the basic stock market is a +ve sum game. It is trading, especially HFT, that is a zero sum game. The conflicts of interest that have made proprietary trading predatory are what we need to worry about. A return to a small transaction tax would be a good thing IMO, as a way to reduce the huge efforts and wasted economic capital to play these games.

Because cheating by various means has such a huge payoff and rarely results in penalties, I would use the transaction tax revenue to enforce a much stronger SEC enforcement to keep teh game honest and even boring, much like it was after Glass-Steagall and until it all started to go bad in the mid 1980's hen proprietary trading really got underway.







Duncan Cairncross said...

Alex
No matter what you do to your "tokens" nothing in the real world changes
You can smoke them,
sell them,
freeze them....
And nothing changes!

The asset they represent may change but it will do that whatever happens to the shares

As Dr Brin said
"But the buy-sell of old shares is the traders' own business and "gambling". It merits no subsidy."

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan - if they were just tokens, they would be valueless. They are much more than that. Pretending that shares are tokens isn't a useful thought experiment if that does not reflect reality or its consequences.

You might as well pretend that money is just a token too with no legal claim, and that therefore the IPO cannot work either.

BTW, without any transactions, there would be no price discovery and with it efficient allocation of capital. This is part of the +ve sum.







Alex Tolley said...

The asset they represent may change but it will do that whatever happens to the shares

Incorrect. You haven't thought this through.

Anonymous said...


But money is a token, valueless except for convention. It cannot be eaten, imbibed or lived in.

Alex Tolley said...

Then give me all your tokens if they are so valueless. :). Or try printing your own.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Money - as such - is useless

It is like blood in an animal
It does not hunt the prey or digest the food
But it does transfer oxygen and nutrients to the organs that do

In an economy it performs a similar function (except that it is in one form not as charged and discharged blood)

The Stock Exchange for existing stocks is like swapping blood - no actual benefit to the organism

A zero sum gambling game - except that if too much blood gets transferred the donor gets sick and it becomes a negative sum game

David Brin said...

Alex said "BTW, without any transactions, there would be no price discovery and with it efficient allocation of capital. This is part of the +ve sum."

1. This is only true when the market is honest and not warped by insider dealing, CEO manipulation and computer-predatory parasitic "flash trading." And dark pools within which trades are done in secret.

2. Yes, determining the value of a share does help the company price any new shares that it issues, to raise capital. And the value of shares put up as collateral for bonds and loans.

But that price determination does NO other benefits for the company or the society. Hence there are zero good reasons for trades of OLD stock to get the slightest tax benefits. All those subsidies should go to R&D and to new shares issuance.

Treebeard said...

I don’t know, to me “cynical despair” seems like a pretty reasonable response to our cosmic predicament. The vastness, emptiness, “entropic doomedness” and apparent unreachability of the cosmos is the ultimate gnostic bummer, isn’t it?

Here are three quotes I like:

“The surface of the Earth is shore of the cosmic ocean, and the water seems inviting.” –Carl Sagan

“We live on a placid island of ignorance amidst black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” --H. P. Lovecraft

"First you dream, then you die." --Cornell Woolrich

Is the water really so inviting? Could Lovecraft’s cynical and despairing worldview be more realistic than Sagan’s or yours? Give it another century, and we’ll probably know who was right.

Maybe we just live in a zero sum universe? You’re born, you move atoms around for a while, you look up at the galaxies and feel absurd and impotent, maybe you dream a few dreams and write a few books about them, then you die. Is this ever likely to change? Do the TEDxers have a solution? Do you really think we’re on a path to godhood? Do you understand the appeal of despair (and religion) in such a universe?

сергей блюмкин said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
сергей блюмкин said...

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Jumper said...

To a snake, paradise is unceasing biting.

Paul451 said...

Alex,
What people are saying is that the actual transaction is just a change of ownership, it has no other value. The change of ownership does not cause the company to make money, to develop products or in any other way to increase value in a positive sum way. The only "positive sum" aspect of the change of ownership is that you wanted out, and I wanted in, and we both agree on a price that we are happy with. It adds no other value.

I buy your car, the car hasn't become a better car unless I add value in some additional way.

You are trying to take the positive sum value of business and trade in general, and pretending that is the value of the stock market. The only value of the stock market is in making it easier to buy and sell equity in a simple form (just as money is easier to use than a barter economy). However, the worship of the stock market is completely out of proportion to that actual value, for the reason you demonstrate. People in finance seem to treat the activities of companies, which produce value, as if they are somehow a property of the stock market itself.

Duncan,
"(1) The funding of new company's (IPO's)"

IPOs don't fund new companies. They are the mechanism by which the original funders sell all or part of their equity in the company.

All stock-market trades are at the owner-to-owner level. They do not fund companies.(**)

[** The exception being the issuing of new stock where the current owners agree to dilute their equity in order to increase the cash holdings of the company (for whatever reason). Similar to a privately held company bringing in new partners, in order to raise money to expand the business.]

Paul451 said...

[From the last thread...]

Locumranch,
"Is defending your country 'positive sum' when only 1% of your countrymen (the soldier-class) are asked to lose everything (health, home, hearth, future, life) to protect the interests of every other non-combatant??"

They are not being asked to "lose everything", they are being paid to slightly increase their risk. Those who join the military don't all automatically die. Only a tiny percentage of the military die. The majority don't even see combat. The majority don't even leave the US.

I believe the US doesn't pay its soldiers enough, and the attacks on soldiers' benefits is vile. However, they are not slave-soldiers sent to die. Your framing of your argument is wrong, therefore your conclusion is nonsense.

Paul451 said...

From the main post:

David,
"using a railgun to launch scramjets to near orbit."

Pedantically it would not be a railgun; the proposal is for a non-contact linear magnetic motor. Pop-sci's mistake has been repeated all over the place.

(And a pox on Pop-sci for constantly redirecting .com links to their .au site, then redirecting to a page-not-found page because the .au site doesn't have the linked article. Argh!)

"Like why Mr. Metaxas clearly wants Earth to be alone in the cosmos."

He doesn't. He doesn't care about it at all. What he wants is to use the reputation of "science" to justify his religious beliefs (Creationism); while ignoring the reason science gained that reputation. [Or at least, he wants to appeal to people who have that religious belief in order to sell them his boss's ideology, whether or not he actually shares either the religion or the ideology.]

Daniel Duffy said...

As for God and aliens, Taylor Caldwell's book "Dialogues with the Devil" addresses this very issue. The novel is a series of letters between Lucifer and the archangel Michael. It describes Lucifer's rebellion against God and his continued struggle to undermine God's plan on millions of inhabited wolds across the universe. Both heaven and hell are filled with the souls of beings from a multitude of planets. Sometimes Lucifer wins, and the intelligent races of these fallen worlds abandon God and damn themselves to extinction and their planets to death and ruin. All of them however have been potentially saved by Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Which angers Lucifer greatly since God chose the ugliest, meanest, lowest and most backward planet in the entire universe for his incarnation. No race in the universe is more evil and ignorant than the inhabitants of Earth.

As usual, the Devil gets all the best lines.

locumranch said...


The irony is that Metaxas is more like Brin than many of us are willing to admit as both want to use the reputation of "science" to justify their own religious beliefs, preferring their original narrative over heartless fact, while ignoring the reason science gained that it's fearsome reputation in the first place, mostly it's willingness to gut the sacred cow on the empiric altar of expedience.

To Paul451, I offer you reading lessons because I did not say that the soldier-class was 'required' to those everything, but only "asked to lose everything" for the sake of a greater cause (although I admit that my generalisation does not apply to those paycheck-driven Euro & Iraqi soldiers who wear civilian clothes under their uniforms, so they may 'divest' themselves of uniforms & responsibilities in order to run away at the first sign of trouble).

To Alex, I will take your bet with Anon because I will give you a pile of Euros (sufficient to buy a loaf of bread) within months of Greek Exit, as long as you agree to supply the wheelbarrow necessary to carry them.



Best

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451
The only "positive sum" aspect of the change of ownership is that you wanted out, and I wanted in, and we both agree on a price that we are happy with. It adds no other value.

The whole point of your example is that both parties maximize utility after the transaction compared to before. This is +ve sum as resource distribution is maximized. We can approach the issue from another example. A company can produce product but no one can buy it, so that it stays as inventory. Production has increased (+ve sum apparently) but utility has not. It is the market of transactions that redistribute goods and services that is +ve sum. To put it in terms that we constantly discuss, if a Feudal lord owns all the goods and services, the utility is a lot less than if they were more equitably distributed, even if that did not change the production function.

@DB 1. This is only true when the market is honest and not warped by insider dealing, CEO manipulation and computer-predatory parasitic "flash trading." And dark pools within which trades are done in secret.

Obviously. But please do not add extra factors to confuse the issue.

But that price determination does NO other benefits for the company or the society. Hence there are zero good reasons for trades of OLD stock to get the slightest tax benefits. All those subsidies should go to R&D and to new shares issuance.

What subsidies? Again, i think you are railing against issues that are subsidiary to the main issue.

My sense is that +ve sum is being used in the sense of only increasing production rather than utility. In many respects, we might have a better outcome with reduced production (or particular goods) and better distribution.

In general, markets are the best way to allocate goods and services to maximize utility. This requires price discovery to function in order to generate the signals needed. therefore markets are a necessary part of maximizing utility.

In stock market terms, share price discovery is needed in order to allocate capita to those companies that are producing the goods and services people in aggregate desire. Right now shareholders are divesting from fossil fuel energy companies in response to AGW. This makes capital more expensive to raise and reduces the profitability of new exploration for reserves (this impacts all forms of financing and even non-financial issues, such as permitting). This rapid signaling couldn't happen if there was no share transactions. Why is this not +ve sum as it supports TWODA?

The issue of over trading by financial actors is a separate issue. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater because of the problems that financial institutions have generated. We can always revert to the period when joint stock companies had not been invented. I don't see that as good solution at all.









Robert said...

Is the Universe zero-sum?

It depends on the scale. And this is true for anything.

The Solar system is not a Zero-sum system. You have a source of energy in the form of the Sun which is emitting photons, atoms, and more into the solar system which goes on to heat a multitude of planets while providing the gravitational lattice in which the planets are constrained. That energy builds up on the planets and allows for weather patterns and more to form.

On the Earth, you have plants and photosynthetic animals that convert that energy into forms it can use to sustain life functions. That in turn is consumed by other animals which are eaten by yet other animals, and possibly up to the top of the food chain... and the remnants of those animals and their waste products are consumed by yet other organisms that go on to provide the nutrients needed for the lower-level organisms to continue to thrive.

It is very positive sum across a scale of a billion or two billion years. And on the human scale? The universe is tremendously positive-sum.

If you look at the scale of hundreds of trillions of years? Then yes, things become zero-sum. But humanity won't survive to that point due to the forces of evolution. If some descendent of humanity lasts ten million years it won't be the same as what exists now. In a trillion years? If humanity has left the solar system and escaped the death of Sol? It will be in a form that many humans would probably recoil from and consider Other.

When you start getting proton decay on a larger scale? If humanity has existed until that point... you'll see an organism that is so alien that you might not recognize what it once was. And I bet the humans of that era won't think "positive-sum" and "negative-sum" but instead will have other things to consider.

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

@locum. You are on. What exchange rate are you offering and when will you deliver? I'll buy the box and postage.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 - Or at least, he wants to appeal to people who have that religious belief in order to sell them his boss's ideology, whether or not he actually shares either the religion or the ideology.

Some years ago I read a piece in the WSJ where the author tried to show that religious people were more protective of the planet for future generations than secularists. It was drivel, and the logic was tortured.
I suspect your comment would have been relevant then too.

Alex Tolley said...

All stock-market trades are at the owner-to-owner level. They do not fund companies.(**)

[** The exception being the issuing of new stock where the current owners agree to dilute their equity in order to increase the cash holdings of the company (for whatever reason).


This isn't true either. The price of shares and their returns impacts other financing sources, such as corporate bonds. The lower the required rate of return, the less cash is needed to divert for servicing the financing and thus can be allocated to growth.

The transactions provide the information for capital allocation and, in theory, prevent misallocation.
Obviously the market is not perfect, and pathologies arise. But remove it and the pathologies are worse.

Naum said...

I missed the last post on the Fairness Doctrine.

While I'm not sure I'm completely on the side that champions its resurrection, I will say some of the arguments I hear against it are not based in truth.

Political talk radio wouldn't exist without it -- completely false, I'm old enough to remember talk radio in Fairness Doctrine age. The shows were much more informative and insightful, and while there was a variety of talk show formats, the political ones were done much better -- usually the host would invite a knowledgeable/involved representative from both sides of an issue and let the callers have a chance at them, after each got to speak their piece. That's much better than the one-sided ranting than today's (terrestrial) radio clown jokers perform.

Robert said...

I think that what we should do is turn the U.S. House of Representatives into a part-time job, and increase the number of Representatives from 435 to the Constitutional requirement. Take the wages the current Reps get, and split it with all of the new Reps. They work from home using a system like Skype but with encryption. The new House would vote once per week, and the Representatives would have to research the bills they are voting on (and new bills should include information ON where to find research on these topics).

Having thousands of Representatives (elected preferably through an open primary system like that found in California) would eliminate the ability of Reps being bought by big money interests. It would destroy the current gerrymandering system and probably prevent it from coming back in any effective form. And let's face it. We don't need lobbyists being able to centralize their business and buying off our politicians. Make them have to work hard to try and do this. And force transparency so we know who is visited by these Lobbyists.

Rob H.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Robert
Here a bill is normally;
Written in draft,
Released on the internet for comment,
The bill + comments are returned for a re-write,
The final bill is voted on

If you comment you can choose to comment in person or have your comment in writing

All of this is stored as public documents

Unfortunately we do have an "urgency" provision that short circuits this process and has been overused by the current government

David Brin said...

Geez, for the first time, “Treebeard” has offered us something cogent and somewhat sane. A defense of cynicism that is cockeyed wrong, but at least not-loony. Basically: “Thermodynamics says you can’t win, and most of the cool stuff is out of reach, and our comfy civilization is both temporary and an illusion, right?”

1) We don’t yet know if this renaissance is “temporary.” Guys like Treebeard are doing their best to make it so, as are the folks attempting to restart feudalism. But there are strengths to positive sum enlightenment. And if those strengths build momentum, then some or all citizens will be much, much smarter in the future…

… in which case, which of us will be deemed sane. Those who tried to prevent those smarter generations? Or those who believes it was possible and strove to smooth the way for better, wiser children?

2) Cynicism is proved to be a drug high and a cop-out for laziness. Those correlation do NOT prove that ALL cynical stances are wrong! Indeed, I know that some are correct, or have better odds than some optimistic stances. But the drug high and laziness correlations are indeed, very very strong…

…and those correlations create an associative presumption-against-validity… or a burden of proof that the cynic is not simply doing a drugged/lazy thing.

3) I know every cynical argument. I know how lousy human beings are and how naturally they tumble into darkness! It is BECAUSE of that, that I am stunned by all that we’ve accomplished in 2 centuries and especially since George Marshall. In which case, I am FORCED to deem cynicism to be treason against something new in the world.

Worse than treason, it is stark ingratitude, which is one of the very lowest of all shitty human traits. And most cynics I know aren’t just druggies and lazies, but despicable ingrates.

4) (Guarded) optimists live longer, better lives, period.

=
Alex: “IPOs don't fund new companies. They are the mechanism by which the original funders sell all or part of their equity in the company.”

Only partly true. Most IPOs are a mix of capital-raising dilution and founder sell-off. Indeed, savvy investors look at that ratio to see which companies’ founders are hanging around, having faith in their babies.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

A defense of cynicism that is cockeyed wrong, but at least not-loony. Basically: “Thermodynamics says you can’t win, and most of the cool stuff is out of reach, and our comfy civilization is both temporary and an illusion, right?”


That was the young version of Woody Allen's character in Annie Hall.

"Why won't you do your homework?"

"The universe is expanding!"

"What does that have to do with your homework?"

"What's the point?"

David Brin said...

That was in "Radio Days"!

Laurent Weppe said...

"Cynicism is proved to be a drug high and a cop-out for laziness"

Cynicism is also a convenient way to justify submissiveness and support of would-be lordlings spewing far-right demagogic rhetorics: "I'm screwed anyway, the rich will always take the lion share of the cake, but some among them promised me preferential access to their scraps if I pledge myself to them": the electoral success of the Tea Party or the European far-right does not stems from people being too cognitively limited to realize that their being conmen's marks but from cynical calculuses.

Jumper said...

It may be the universe = 0. Or maybe the universe > 0. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is twofold: Find out if the second equation is possible, and find out if you can affect that equation.

David Brin said...

Jumper my mission is to help us all make smarter successors who are able to solve those question... and maybe be one of them.

locumranch said...



"My mission is to help us all make smarter successors who are able to solve those question(s) ... "

As the above quote illustrates, David continues to insist that intelligence can be TAUGHT, demonstrating an insidious circularity of thought combined with biological ignorance.

He confuses intelligence (aka 'smart-ness') with the social consensus of IQ testing, equates IQ testing with educational performance (both of which correlate well), and reflexively accepts of the assumed connection between educational credentialism and future success despite a demonstratable lack of correlation between intelligence and future performance.

Like most Company Men, he prefers to be safe rather than bold, doubling-down on established conformist policy instead of risking the deviant, novel or new, the modern equivalent of confusing intellect with the archaically rote skills of horse-clubbing or fish-grabbing detailed in Peddiwell's 'The Saber-toothed Curricullum'.

To support this accusation, I refer to the following article, first published in The Atlantic in 1985, recently revisited in January of 2015:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1985/12/the-case-against-credentialism/308286/

Best

David Brin said...

Hey! I am waaaaaaaaaaaaay over HERE! Um... oh, never mind. Enjoy the made up strawman. (teehee.)

LarryHart said...

There are times I really, REALLY miss hanging out on the list that used to discuss "Cerebus", but also many comic books in general. We pretty much got each other's in-jokes.

So if I was there, I could say, and be understood and appreciated without having to explain it...

"Mom! Cynicalman's being stupid!"

Alfred Differ said...

locumranch:

What are you paraphrasing when you argue that David thinks intelligence can be taught? Are you going from first hand material or from your earlier perceptions of him?

Honest question.

Robert said...

You know, in the past I've tried to get some smart libertarian friends of mine to come to this site. I'd also considered getting a libertarian webcartoonist who does a great science fiction webcomic to visit as well. But after this latest bout of immaturity by Dr. Brin... I'm glad I held off.

And I'm starting to wonder if maybe I need another vacation from Contrary Brin until Dr. Brin realizes he's addicted to his own outrage and is acting churlishly.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

I don't even remotely understand Robert anymore. He's always utterly vague and this latest is a case of a kettle calling the pot black.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Once you start talking about intelligence we are going to find our minds weighted with the heavy baggage of ancient assumptions. One of the most useful roles science can play is in discarding ancient assumptions and prejudices that do not fit the facts as they are currently known. Now Dr. Brin can speak for himself as to what he meant, though I don't think he was saying anything about teaching intelligence. Part of becoming smarter is simply having the knowledge to make smart decisions - the dispelling of ignorance.

But what, exactly, is intelligence? Most people have an intuitive understanding of what they mean by it, and most people can point to certain people as paragons of intelligence, or relate anecdotes that seem emblematic of intelligence. However, efforts to create an objective way to operationally define intelligence, much less measure intelligence, have all fallen on their proverbial faces. If you think that IQ tests measure intelligence, you are living in the dream land of the early 20th Century Eugenics Movement. Stephen Jay Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man" debunked IQ tests back in the mid 80's, and he wasn't the first. In fact, the creator of the first IQ test, Georges Binet, expressly denied that his test measured intelligence.

A major problem is that we assume that intelligence is just one thing. The idea of multiple intelligences, which better matches the modular nature of the human brain, has been around for a few decades as well. Any notion of "general intelligence" is deeply flawed. Scientific American recently did a good article, not expressly under the auspices of multiple intelligences theory, but just coming from the observation that people who score high on IQ tests often still do really stupid things.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/rational-and-irrational-thought-the-thinking-that-iq-tests-miss/

Paul Shen-Brown said...

A much more insidious problem, though, is the deeply ingrained assumption that intelligence is entirely inherited. This assumption has been used for the last couple centuries as a justification for racism, and for many more centuries as a justification for sexism. But two of the fields in science that are advancing at the fastest pace right now - neurology and genetics, have at least some light to cast on this problem.

Estimates of the heritability of intelligence have varied quite widely over the last century, and have all suffered from innumerable confounds. However, the trend in the last couple decades since the Human Genome Project has been the genetic contribution to intelligence is constantly being reduced. In fact, it has been pretty typical of 20th Century medical science to assume high heritability when very little is known about a phenomenon, but those heritability estimates drop as we learn more. I have personal experience with this one, but little time to relate the story. Some genes have been found to relate to intelligence in limited ways, but I have seen heritability estimates for intelligence that dip as low as 20%.

Now what does neuroscience say about this? The most obvious thing is the revolutionary discoveries in neuroplasticity that have completely changed the field in the past few decades, since scanning devices more effective than the EEG came along. It is patently obvious that intelligence is a highly malleable property, though its malleability tends to decrease with age.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

There are 2 relevant factors here. One is called Myelination. This involves cells in your brain called oligodendrocytes, which stretch out extensions of their membranes to wrap them around the axons of nerve cells. Axons are the fibers down which electrical signals are sent. In circuits that get used frequently, the oligodendrocytes wrap what is called a myelin sheath around axons in those circuits. This has 2 effects. One is that it accelerates the electrical signal, the other is that, in a brain crowded with nerve cells in close proximity, it ensures that the signal always goes to the same place (hopefully meaning the right place, but if you do something wrong consistently, the myelin sheath ensures that you will continue to do it wrong in the same way every time). Your brain is selective about what pathways get myelinated, mostly choosing things you do frequently, like the nerves that signal the heart muscles. However, myelination is not only for muscle movement. Everything you learn is made permanent and automatic by myelination. (Actually, it isn't entirely permanent - if a pathway is not used for an extended period, the oligodendrocytes withdraw the myelin sheath and place it somewhere else. This is how we forget.)

This might lead you to think that old-fashion drill and kill teaching is the only way to learn, but we are not that simple. There is a second relevant process called Arborization. In this process, wispy extensions of a nerve cell's membrane called dendrites grow and connect to the axons of other nerve cells. The more dendrite connections you grow, the bigger your neural networks grow, the more easily you can retrieve memories and connect them to relevant information from which to make choices. If there is a mechanism in our brains that makes the difference between smart and not smart, it is this. Myelination is akin to ROM - it is long-term storage of memory. Arborization is what makes the flexible, creative thinking that we typically think of as "intelligence" possible.

A very relevant fact about both of these processes is that both are inherently flexible. Children who grow up in a rich environment full of stimulating experiences grow huge numbers of dendrites, while children who live in impoverished environments with very little to stimulate them grow many fewer dendrites. This is why previous estimates of the heritability of intelligence were always very high. Wealthy people can afford to give their children very stimulating childhoods, filled with books, trips to cultural landmarks, lessons in new skills, travel around the world, etc., while the poor can only offer their children the resources of their ghetto to stimulate their growing brains. Without adequately separating environment from genes, the effects of arborization will tend to inflate the appearance of heritability.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Movements in education tend to be pendular - they swing from over-emphasis on myelination to over-emphasis on arborization. If you insist on linking these movements to political parties, the tendency has been for the reds to emphasize stultifying regimens rote memorization, while blues look to loosy-goosy experience-building activities that would tend to arborize. Both sides miss the fact that learners cannot memorize what they don't understand (which requires the enriched experiences that grow and form connections between dendrites), but they won't understand those rich experiences if they do not memorize the relevant facts that make them work.

So, can intelligence be taught? Maybe, or maybe it can be learned but not directly taught. Given the current state of the science, that is what it looks like. We can teach facts, and we can provide rich, stimulating environments that will promote the growth of brains that would allow them to understand the facts we teach. But given that we cannot even adequately define intelligence, I think the case is not yet closed. However, to assume, as our ancestors did without the benefits of modern science and technology, that intelligence is a single, unchanging and entirely inherited quantity is a case of almost criminally willful ignorance.

Robert said...

You don't understand, Dr. Brin?

You speak of addiction to outrage and yet act in the manner which you warn others. You have taken to ridiculing those who disagree with you rather than retaining a sense of propriety and intellect. You have become churlish and enjoy baiting people along so to demonstrate their inferiority.

I don't know if I've just woken up and finally noticed, or if you have changed. I would prefer to think it the latter but freely admit it might be the former; no one ever wants to admit they were wrong about someone.

I no longer want to encourage my friends to come here and participate in debate. That tells something to me. It is a warning sign. And I know that there is nothing I can say which is going to shift the inertia of this blog.

Rob H.

Laurent Weppe said...

"This assumption has been used for the last couple centuries as a justification for racism, and for many more centuries as a justification for sexism."

And let's not forget the justification of aristocratic privilege. Racist jargon sounds a lot like a roman patrician's ranting about his intrinsic intellectual superiority over the plebs: he read Plato in its original greek script while they babbled in vulgare Latinum pidgin: no contest at all, no siree.

Tacitus2 said...

Robert
I too have tended to just wander through once in a while. Although I do enjoy some of the recent arrivals such as Laurent and Paul SB, there is a dull sameness to the general discourse. You could stop reading, come back a month later and the same debates are going on.
Even the indignation that offends you and for good reasons hardly phases me any more.


David, a writer can get away with being many things. Engaging, infuriating, enigmatic, Delphic, etc. The one thing you must avoid at all costs is...being boring.

Sorry.

I will continue to amble through now and again hoping for a topic that makes me think a bit.

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

@Robert, @Tacitus2

I just glanced back through the main post and these comments to see what you are talking about as being boringly repetetive or overly indignant. Except for a few back-and-forths where our host responds to a direct insult, I honestly don't see what set either of you off.

Previous postings about Red States and the New Civil War, sure, but why this post or these comments, of all times to complain?

Robert said...

So what you are suggesting is that each time the blackboard is erased we are to accept this as a brand new day without considering history?

There is a saying about history, and what happens when it is ignored.

I speak up because if no one dares speak, then there is no chance for growth.

And Tacitus is correct about one thing: Contrary Brin has gotten... repetitive. Look at how often Dr. Brin links previous blog posts as if to say "see? I already said it!" and that his views and beliefs need not change.

You could say it's rather conservative of him. ;)

Rob H.

A.F. Rey said...

Regarding sousveillance, an interesting twist. There are now crowd-sourced data sites to track "officer-involved fatalities," which haven't been tracked well in the past.

http://blogs.kqed.org/lowdown/2015/01/28/crowd-sourced-data-show-more-than150-killings-by-california-police-last-year/

http://audio.californiareport.org/archive/R201502030850/c

Government permission is not required to track the government.

David Brin said...

Sorry, Robert, I looked through recent postings. And (1) give n' take down in a comments section has different rules... and ...

(2) the only person I see myself having been "rude" to is locumranch, who desperately seeks it. Who does every conceivable thing to get a reaction. I am merely being a good host and supplying what my guest relentlessly hungers for. Indeed, I am mostly stingy, since he has become boring.

You'll notice that time and again you have stated these "churlish" accusations without giving a single example. Note also that you give two possible explanations... a typical black-whit dichotomy...

...without even remotely considering that there is a third.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

So what you are suggesting is that each time the blackboard is erased we are to accept this as a brand new day without considering history?


No, but most o that history was already there when you were considering inviting libertarian friends to join in. I'm asking what changed between that time and the time you decided you are glad you held off.

Ok, your exact wording was:

But after this latest bout of immaturity by Dr. Brin... I'm glad I held off.


So I rephrase my question. What latest bout of immaturity? If saying "I know you are but what am I?" to locumranch--after he claims Dr. Brin wants everyone to be risk-avoiding company men--is enough to drive you off, then yeah, you're probably not in the right place. If that's not it, then I still don't get what "it" is.

Jumper said...

Paul Shen-Brown,
I was thinking the other day about what sorts of things might really be going on in genetics which would be interpreted as affecting "intelligence" (I must say the debate is indeed sort of getting stale). I think greater neuron density linkages to specific areas of the brain, and these are problematically also affected by simple practice. What I mean is, some brains may trend towards greater neural densities in the visual system. Or the areas concerned with dexterity of hands. Or proprioceptive sensation in general. Hearing. Taste.

Other heritable traits might be neurotransmitter-related and more system-wide, affecting memory, or short-term projection-anticipation of motions, etc.

As far as our human host here, I like to think David has noted the concern expressed from a broad range of friends and fans, and doesn't need to eat crow to note it. Everyone changes, indeed whether they want to or not.

I also wanted to mention again that I value both Robert's and Tacitus' inputs. Everybody has an off day. Except me, of course. ;>]

Alfred Differ said...

I know the estimates for what is inherited for minds hosted on brains change around, but I'm skeptical we can put up anything better than a crude guess. I've been learning about the damage done to a fetus whose immune system learns to turn on to threats faced by the mother. The ensuing auto-immune diseases strike me as a muddler of what we can know at this stage of our science, so I've chosen to shrug my shoulders when people wonder about inheritance of mental skills.

I've no doubt some skills are passed along, but our species isn't all that diverse yet. I'd be skeptical about narratives using inheritance explaining differences between mature people on that alone. Environment strikes me as much more likely.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Jumper, predispositions toward greater neuronal densities in specific brain regions is a definite possibility. One of the very few verifiable differences between men and women is that on average men have more developed occipital lobes, while women average more developed temporal lobes. This means that males tend to be better at visual/spatial tasks and women at auditory/linguistic tasks, but this is only average. If it were possible to get a hold of Mozart's brain, for instance, I would not be surprised to find that he had a lot more going on in his temporal lobes than most people of either sex. And this observation may or may not imply a genetic predisposition. I do not know of any studies that have compared these sensory differences in cultures that have gender roles very different from ours.

As far as neurotransmitters go, glutamate is the main one for memory encoding, and genes that set base levels for both glutamate and its receptor (both equally necessary - you can't watch TV without a TV set, or without a TV station broadcasting the signal), but these are still poorly understood. Alfred is right that we can't be too sure with such a young science, but then, you have to go with what you know, ya know? We might turn out to be wrong about anything - that's just life for anyone less than a god - but it doesn't do any good to sit on your hands and shout "need more data" forever. Glutamate will sound familiar to most people from the flavoring called monosodium glutamate. I thank I related a story about a geology professor I knew who got amnesia from MSG. Although she was probably more susceptible than average, I would still advise staying away from soy products. The only way to know if you are susceptible is to find out the hard way. Dopamine seems to be involved in encoding muscle memory (why Parkinson's Disease has an amotivational side-effect), so it may not be just this one neurotransmitter.

Of course the debate about the heritibility of intelligence is getting stale, but it isn't going to go away as long as people find it politically useful to claim that some class of human beings is inferior, unworthy of rights or even access to adequate supplies of their biological needs. Heritibility, in most people's minds, means unchanging (though most people still have not even heard of epigenetics - apparently even the spell checker hasn't!). Thus Laurent's comment about aristocratic privilege.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Thinking about Mozart brought another thought to mind. It has long been noted that as people age, they tend to become more narrowly focused. If you compare, say, a Mozart piano concerto written in his mid-twenties to his last few, the later compositions are more thematically conservative. That is, they have fewer new musical ideas (ironically, though, his last is still my favorite).

I have only been visiting Dr. Brin's blog since this summer, but I can see the main themes and subjects he posts about. We have some very cool round-ups of current science, tributes to classic writers, critiques of movies, and a huge helping of politics. Now it is his server and he can do what he likes with it. Since I'm not a very political person and I know very little about economic theory, I tend to stay out of those (except when someone spouts real egregious troglodyte memes). I also have my time issues, so some I stay out of not by choice.

However, Dr. Brin often posts some very interesting material on very different subjects on Facebook. I just checked while waiting for my school's server to come back on line, and saw one about dolphins, another about disaster survival and one about Frank Herbert's Dune series. Maybe, if some of us are getting a little bored with the typical themes but still enjoy the community, we might suggest he bring some of this other material to the blog once in awhile.

But having said that, I have also noticed that these discussions often go off the topic that Dr. Brin began with. Certain vocal members of this forum have their own pet themes, often ones that rile up others, and the whole conversation tends to drift back to the same old debates. I'm guilty of it, too. If it were my blog I'm sure some people would get tired of hearing about brains all the time. A skill I learned as a classroom teacher is when to ignore certain behaviors strategically. A little of that might help, too.

Tony Fisk said...

In keeping with Paul's comments about going off theme:

NASA has received the go-ahead to plan for a mission to Europa

And maybe this might go into the Facebook entry: orcas vs cacharodons

Duncan Cairncross said...

Robert said
"Look at how often Dr. Brin links previous blog posts as if to say "see? I already said it!" and that his views and beliefs need not change."

Having taken the time and trouble to explain a point why should the good doctor do it again??
If the first article is good then get as much use out of it as possible

The only times Dr Brin has been a little tiny bit short with me has been when I have cast aspersions on the American founding fathers, otherwise he has been a very gracious host


David Brin said...

An honest critic would chart my responses to criticism or disagreement along a spectrum (with examples.) While I am far from perfect... and indeed have apologized on numerous occasions... I tend to envision that I react to polite (even somewhat snippy) disagreement in ways that are okay, down here, in an informal and unofficial comments section, where everyone is on notice to have a moderately thick skin.

To be clear, when I say "that's malarkey (or bullshit)" that's a very different from saying "YOU are a dope (or off your meds)." Right?

Of course, that impression I have... that I only respond ad hominem to people who started it first... could be in error! Confirmation bias and all that yadda. So what's the strongest evidence?

The nature of this community, one of the oldest and smartest on the web. I take solace from the likelihood that most of you smartalecks would not put up with me, were I deteriorating very far below the level of an occasional snark/snip or spit.

That, too, is subjective. But the fact that I CARE about that is not. That is just a fact. In evidence: that I took the time to write this apologia.

Hence, I have to ask Robert again. Not for examples, since he appears loathe to do that. But whether he has considered the third possibility, in his dichotomy.

A third explanation for why he perceives me as deteriorating into snarling grouchitude.

Here's a deal. I will consider his two hypothetical explanations... if he will at least ponder the third.

Tim H. said...

Well yes, you can get cranky, but this is your place. And I don't have a lot of room to complain about cranky people myself. BTW, "Space Suite" was awesome, thanks.

David Brin said...

onward