Sunday, March 27, 2011

What we believe but cannot prove

I read this starting shortly after I wrote my outline of a philosophy. I got it on the Kindle reader for my iPhone, and especially because if the very short "chapters" it's made for great train reading.

It's also been really fun and interesting. A good reminder that people believe all kinds of crazy things - even smart people. I've been able to compare a lot of ideas with my own. Some of them seem spot on, others totally delusional.

I kept short summaries of all the beliefs in the iPhone notes app, and now I'll rate them based on how cool I think they are. Things I don't agree with at all will be one star ("*") and things I think are really likely to be the case or really cool ideas I'll mark with five stars ("*****") and so on. Highlighting for the few that really stood out.

There's a range of interpretations of the question ("What do you believe but can't prove?") with some people going for "fundamentally unprovable" and some with "not yet proved." Both are pretty interesting. Here we go:

** Martin Rees: Humans are the only intelligent life, so we're special, let's colonize the universe. (As a kind of substitute for religious belief.)

**** Ray Kurzweil: We'll be able to circumvent the speed of light for communications.

** Douglas Rushkoff: Evolution has purpose and direction. (Sort of meaning-from-us...)

**** Richard Dawkins: Evolution precedes design everywhere in the universe. (A version of "there is no god ANYWHERE.")

**** Chris Anderson: Evolution explains everything. (Intelligent Design folks say I can't "prove" it.)

*** Stephan Petranek: Life is common in the universe and we'll find another earth-like planet within ten years.

** Carolyn Porco: "We are not alone." (by statistics)

** Paul C. W. Davies: "We are not alone." (because life is fundamental to nature somehow)

*** Kenneth W. Ford: Microbial life exists elsewhere in our galaxy.

**** Karl Sabbagh: Mathematics, or at least counting, is universal (not human-specific).
My qualification: I think this is because of physical constraints on what sort of things can be "alive," not because mathematics exists in some abstract sense as a perfect entity...

** J. Craig Venter: Life ubiquitous in universe, also panspermia.

**** Leon Lederman: Some beautiful symmetry or some such underlies the universe, we just haven't found it yet.

*** Maria Spiropula: gravity particle physics, after wasting a lot of time, christ...

**** Philip W. Anderson: String theory is a futile exercise.

**** Robert M. Sapolsky: No God(s) or soul.

**** Jesse Bering: No afterlife.

**** Ian McEwan: No afterlife.

***** Michael Shermer: Reality exists, etc. REALLY GETS IT.

***** Susan Blackmore: No free will / no self.

**** Randolph M. Nesse: People gain a selective advantage from believing in things they can't prove.

*** Tor Norrerranders: Having faith is good (not necessarily in god).

**** Scott Atran: There is no god that has existence apart from people's thoughts of god.

* David G. Myers: There is a god, and it's not me or you. (to pleasant consequences)
Included for completeness, I guess, to show that you can believe in god and not be an ass. Cool!

*** Jonathan Haidt: Religion is a side-effect, but hostility toward religion is an obstacle to psychological development.

*** Sam Harris: Belief is a content-independent process.

* David Buss: True love.

** Seth Lloyd: Science.

** Denis Dutton: Some art will have everlasting appreciation; universal (human) aesthetics.

**** Jared Diamond: Humans "recently" went to new places on earth, and killed most of the big animals.

***** Timothy Taylor: Cannibalism and slavery were prevalent in human prehistory.

***** Judith Rich Harris: Cute babies are evolutionarily favored because parents abandon them at birth less. ("parental selection" affects skin color and hairiness)

**** John H. McWhorter: Little people on Flores helped simplify the languages there.

***** Elizabeth Spelke: People are basically the same - including racism - but we can rise above our inherent nastinesses.

**** Stephen H. Schneider: Global warming caused by humans.

*** Bruce Sterling: We're in for climatic mayhem.

***** Robert Trivers: Deceit and self-deception play a big role in human problems.

* Verena Huber-Dyson: The creative power of boredom / people will overcome packaged entertainment.

**** Keith Devlin: That he has pointed out uncertainty in the idea of proof.

*** Freeman Dyson: It never happens that the reverse of a power of two is a power of five.
Probably right but superbly uninteresting, like a lot of mathematics. Succeeds in showing that it is trivially easy to come up with things that are probably true but hard/impossible to prove.

** Rebecca Goldstein: Mathematical science does reflect deep truth about the nature of the universe, but is necessarily complete.
I feel like I wrote something down wrong here... Maybe it was necessarily INcomplete?

*** Stuart A. Kauffman: The diversity of things that can happen next increases as fast as it can: fourth law of thermodynamics.

**** Leonard Susskind: Laws of large numbers - probability - work and will go on working.
Interesting because it shows the lack of basis for this belief.

*** Donald D. Hoffman: Consciousness is all that exists.
Either crazy or just crazy enough to be right.

**** Terrence Sejnowski: We are looking in the wrong places for where long-term memories are stored - in extra-cellular matrix!

**** John Horgan: It will never be totally possible to read/write brains, because of complexity and individual differences.

** Arnold Trehub: Some theory about conscious states corresponding to biophysical brain states.

*** Ned Block: The hard problem of consciousness (aka mind body) will be resolved.

**** Janna Levin: The external, physical world exists.

**** Daniel Gilbert: "You!" (consciousness of other people)

** Todd E. Feinberg, M.D.: The human race will never decide that an advanced computer possesses consciousness. / only living beings can have minds

**** Clifford Pickover: No, it depends on the structure, not the materials.

**** Nicholas Humphrey: We think consciousness is so fancy because evolution tricked us into it.

*** Pamela McCorduck: New social modeling will understand but not predict human collective behavior.

**** Charles Simonyi: Generative programming is the future of software.

*** Alan Kay: Computers fundamentally advance beyond writing and printing.

**** Steven Pinker: The brain is full of specialized bits, and we'll work it out eventually.

**** Christine Finn: Humans underutilize some sort of more "primitive" mental capacities.

**** Daniel C. Dennett: Acquiring a human language is a pre-condition for consciousness.

*** Alun Anderson: Cockroaches are conscious. (not necessarily "self-conscious")
People don't seem at all to have "conscious" mean the same thing.

**** Joseph LeDoux: Animals have feelings and other states of consciousness.

*** George Dyson: Ravens co-evolved with Inuit groups, resulting in corresponding dialect-regions.
Why are there so many Dysons?

**** Alison Gopnik: Babies and children are actually more conscious and aware than adults, not less. And: The problem of Consciousness will disappear, like the problem of Life in biology.

*** Paul Bloom: The development of moral reasoning is the same sort of process as the development of mathematical reasoning. (Note: He seems to think math is "true" in some sense that I don't think it is.)

**** William H. Calvin: ACQUIRING language is a precondition for consciousness.

***** Robert R. Provine: We overestimate the conscious control of behavior.

** Stanislas Dehaene: We vastly underestimate the differences that set human brains apart from those of other primates.

*** Stephan Kosslyn: Your mind arises not only from your brain but from those of others around you, through social interactions.

***** Alex Pentland: Subconscious social signaling, by tone of voice etc. is more important than we realize.

**** Irene Pepperberg: Language evolved from gesture/noises + mirror neurons, and birds will help model our understanding of how.

***** Howard Gardner: Talents are the result of brain differences analogous to the ability to learn language.

*** David Gelernter: Scientists will understand the physiological basis of the cognitive spectrum within a generation.

**** Marc D. Hauser: Intelligence based on infinite generation from a finite set.

**** Gary Marcus: Algebralike abstraction is an essential feature of the human mind.

***** Brian Goodwin: Nature and culture are a unified thing, not two separate things. Type hippy-fied.

*** Leo M. Chalupa: The human brain is the most complex thing in the known universe, we'll discover everything to be known, the best tool is science.

*** Margaret Wertheim: There will always be things we don't know.

*** Gino Segrè: There are lots of big bang neutrinos.

*** Haim Harari: Electrons, neutrinos, and quarks are divisible.

**** Donald I. Williamson: The Cambrian explosion was the result of hybridization.

*** Ian Wilmut: It's possible to change the phenotype of an adult cell.

**** Daniel Goleman: Today's children are victims of economic and technological development. (social/emotional skill-wise)

Esther Dyson: We're living longer and thinking shorter. (No clear believe-but-can't-prove thesis.)
Fricking DYSONS.

***** James J. O'Donnell: Everything. Also, there may be better historical methods than the ones humans are capable of.

***** Jean Paul Schmetz: Most ideas taught in Economics 101 will be proved false.

***** Nassim Nicholas Taleb: There is a severe overestimation of knowledge in "ex-past" historical disciplines.

**** Simon Baron-Cohen: Cause of autism is assortative mating of hyper-systematizers.

* Kevin Kelly: DNA varies among cells in the same body, and with time.

***** Martin Nowak: A bunch of cool stuff, including: every special trait of humans is a derivative of language.

**** Tom Standage: The radiation emitted by mobile phones is harmless.

*** Steven Giddings: Some stuff about black holes. I don't care that much right now.

* Alexander Vilenkin: This guy seems like an idiot. Probably my fault I guess.
I don't remember why I said that.

*Laurence M. Krauss: Our universe is not unique.
Forgot what this meant.

** John D. Barrow: Our universe is infinite in size, finite in age, and one among many; all these are unprovable, and this unprovableness will eventually be taken as self-evident.

*** Paul J. Steinhardt: Our universe is not accidental. (string theory anthropomorphic principle is bunk)

**** Lee Smolin: Quantum mechanics is not a final theory. (and some more)

*** Anton Zeilinger: Quantum physics requires us to abandon the distinction between information and reality. (seems dull-headed)

** Gregory Benford: Our universe was bred for success, evolution-style, by prior universes with intelligence.

* Rudy Rucker: Multiverse of deterministic draft universes that consciousness can sort of shift around.

** Carlo Rovelli: Time (and space) do not exist in some absolute sense. And no objects, only relations. And humans have the collaborative instinct. Maybe.

*** Jeffrey Epstein: The mechanism for human perception of time will be discovered.

** Howard Rheingold: We lack a framework for understanding human cooperative behavior. Also such bs as: complex adaptive systems are non-deterministic.

*** Jaron Lanier: The potential for human communication is far beyond that of language etc. (post-symbolic communication) And: genetic racism etc. is linked to creativity etc. so we better make the best of it.

**** Marti Hearst: "The search problem is solvable." (computers will get REALLY good at Jeopardy)

**** Kai Krause: Then not Zen: anticipate and remember, the moment is too short.

**** Oliver Morton: The future will be better; more knowledge will help.

*** W. Daniel Hillis: People are getting better. (moral progress)

***** Martin E. P. Seligman: People are not purely evil. They're both good and evil, mixed.

*** Neil Gershenfeld: Progress.

*** Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Not much; but hope for the future.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

토픽 대비반 글쓰기 5

2011.3.12 사형: 하지 말자

1980년에 사형 선고를 받았던 김대중이 1998년에 대한민국의 대통령이 된 이후로 한국에서 사형을 집행한 일이 한번도 없었으며 사실상 사형제도를 폐지한 나라로 볼 수 있다. 세상이 참 그렇다.

사형은 도덕적으로 그른가? 도덕도 쉽게 너무 주관적인 주제가 될 수 있다. 인간 사회 전체로서의 결과로 보면 인류의 제일 나쁜 10%를 한꺼번에 죽여 버리는 것도 옳은 행위일지도 모른다. 생명권의 근원이 뭔지도 모르면서 대부분의 사람들은 그러한 짓이 그르다고 동의할 수 있다.

현실적으로 사형이 범죄를 예방하는가? 연구 결과들에 따르면 답은 아니다이다. 이유는 분명하다. 흉악범들은 그 행위의 결과를 생각하지 않고 흉악범죄를 저지른다. 재범을 예방하려면 종신형이 사형만큼이나 효과가 있고 잘못된 판결일 경우에는 쉽게 고칠 수 있다. 놀랍게도 사형하고 종신형도 비슷한 비용이 들어서 사형은 장점보다 단점이 많다.

세계적으로 사형제도를 폐지해 가는 경향이다. 완벽한 인간이 없는 이상 이 방향이 맞는 것 같다. 사형하지 말자.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

토픽 대비반 글쓰기 4

2011.3.5 순수한 세레모니

표현의 자유는 민주주의의 핵심이 되는 권리들 중의 하나다. 그런데 프로 축구는 민주주의 활동도 아니고 특정 규칙대로 하는 스포츠다. 그러므로 종교적인 세레모니를 금지해야만 한다.

세레모니 자체도 아직 금지되지 않은 것을 놀랍게 여겨야 한다. 골을 넣는 것이 당연히 행복한 일이지만 세레모니를 너무 난폭하게 하면 경기에 방해가 될 수도 있고 팬들에게도 폭력적인 영향을 미칠 수도 있다. 세레모니에 규제를 두는 것도 당연하다.

그리고 세레모니는 지금까지 규제가 없는 것이 아니다. 선수들이 골 세레모니를 통해 정치적 성향을 드러내면 징계를 받는다. 분명 경기 도중에는 선수들에게 몇가지 권리가 없이 운영하는 것이다. 정당과 마찬가지로 경기 도중에 선수들이 특정 종교를 지원할 필요도, 권리도 없다.

우리가 살고 있는 다문화 사회에서는 종교적 세레모니들은 논쟁에만 기야할 수밖에 없다. 축구 선수들은 축구 실력으로 팀을 대표하게 선정된다. 그러므로 경기에 나갈 때 축구 실력을 보여야 한다. 관중들도 축구를 보러 온다. 그러므로 순수한 축구가 필요한 것이다. 축구장은 교회도, 절도, 성당도, 모스크도 아니다.

축구 선수들도 언론의 자유와 종교의 자유가 있다. 그런데 프로 축구의 번영을 위해서 프로 선수로 나갈 때 지켜야 할 규칙들이 있다. 이 중에 종교적 세레모니가 금지된다는 것을 포함했으면 한다.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Listened to The Four-Hour Work Week

The Four-Hour Work Week
Timothy Ferriss

I got this as an audiobook in anticipation of keeping my eyes closed for a long time after getting LASIK on Saturday. Turns out they wanted me to keep my eyes open mostly, and just do a lot of blinking. Whatev. Still listened to it over the weekend.

Here's the secret of the four-hour work week: start a business selling something, outsource almost everything (manufacture, shipping, customer service, everything) and just take the profit. So I guess it's not much of a secret; if you start a successful business then the rest is easy. He claims his method works for employees to, and advocates arranging to telecommute and then be wildly efficient so that it doesn't take much time. So if you can do a full week's work in four hours, again, no problem.

It does have some fairly neat ideas, to be sure. There may be a time when I want to hire a personal assistant in India or whatever. That time is not now, but heh.

After listening to the abridged Four-Hour Body, I got this book unabridged. Problem: that includes the lists of references at the end of nearly every chapter. It is so boring listening to the guy go "double-u double-u double-u" four million times in a row. "forward-slash ess forward-slash"... Not good for the audiobook format.

In the end it's kind of slap-dash entrepreneurism, with one issue being that for you to have the four-hour work week lifestyle requires a slew of people working normal lots-of-work jobs. And in my case, there's really no way to change the nature of my teaching job to require less time. I have to be physically there leading the class - that's the whole point of the job. So while I may consider using some of he tactics in the future, Ferriss's approach seems largely to be about gaming the system, and almost feels somehow unethical.

Actually, I think my gut feeling is more like this: Ferris is just kind of a shmuck. He's just interested in doing things, not in doing them well, or right. I get that impression watching video of him. I get that impression of him writing about "conversational fluency" in language learning. I get that impression reading about how he won a martial arts competition by gaming the rules, not by being really skilled. So while I admire a lot of what he's accomplished, I don't know if I could really say that I want to be like him. I do want to be more jump-in-and-try-without-fear-of-failure like him, but it seems like he exaggerates his accomplishments too much without really being all that substantial. He reminds me of some people I used to work with.

Pretty cool ideas about travel though. Advice I'd like to take there.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

토픽 대비반 글쓰기 3

2011.2.26 얼굴도 운명이다

운명이라는 것은 여간 난해한 것이 아니다. 어떤 사람은 인간들이 뭐할지를 생각해서 결정하니까 운명이 없다고 믿는다. 그런 한편 내 생각에는 자유 의지도 의미가 없는 개념에 불과하고 그래서 오히려 세상에서 일어나는 모든 일들이 다 운명이라고 생각할 수 있다.

그러니까 인상은 운명과 어떤 관계가 있는가. 점쟁이가 생각하는 손금과 운명의 관계는 명백하게 아니다. 손금은 생활에 아무 영향도 미치지도 않고 미신으로만 중요성을 받게 된다. 그런데 사람의 얼굴의 중요성은 아무리 과장해도 지나치지 않다.

첫인상이 중요하니 만큼 얼굴이야말로 일상생활에 중요한 것이다. 아무리 인격으로 사람을 평가한다고 해도 인간이라서 얼굴을 무시할 수가 없다. 한 부분은 유전 때문이다. 같은 민족인지, 건강한지, 똑똑한지까지 평가하기 위해 사람들이 얼굴을 본다. 친구를 만들 때, 배우자를 선택할 때도 얼굴이 중요하다. 진화적으로 성공하려면 자기 자신 뿐만 아니라 주변 사람들도 성공할 수 있는 사람이어야 하고 얼굴이 첫번째 평가의 도구가 된다. 특히 피부의 질이 건강한지 안 한지를 평가하는 것에 큰 역할을 한다고들 한다.

생활하면서 타인의 반응이 자기 얼굴에 달려 있을 수 있다. 이런 식으로 얼굴의 인상이 운명을 결정할 수 있으며 성형 수술로 운명을 바꿀 수 있다고 말할 수 있다. 물론 얼굴만 보고 특정하게 예언할 수는 없지만 객관적으로 잘 생긴 사람은 못 생긴 사람보다 성공하기가 좀 더 쉽다고 볼 수 있다.


(서강대 한국어학당 6급 쓰기 2011.3.10 감정 묘사)

문을 장그고 나서 그는 천천히 돌아서서 아파트 안을 둘러보았다. 싱크대에 쌓여 있는 접시들이 그와 똑같은 마음을 가지고 있어 보였다. 이틀동안 외롭기만 했었던 게 분명했다. 방바닥에 어수선하게 뒤덥여 있는 여성 옷과 마찬가지로 그는 오늘도 청소하기 위해 손댈 기운이 없었다.

꿈 속에 있는 것처럼 그는 방을 지나 창문턱에 나섰다. 거기에 있는 작은 꽃도 죽었으면... 이제 그는 그 꽃을 위해서만 살게 되었구나.

창문 밖에는 날이 훌륭하게 밝았다. 빛이 들어왔지만 빛보다 그림자들이 더 심하게 눈에 보였다. 빛하고 암흑, 그 정반대로 세상이 지금이라도 무누져 버릴 듯싶었다.

이 꽃도, 눈물로만 살 수 있겠는가. 그는 다시 깅크대로 가 더럽지 않은 잔을 찾았다. 한 머그잔은, 립스틱 얼룩이 있었다. 이 걸 보고 그는 멈추었다. 온몸이 떨렸다. 소리없이 그는 바닥에 쓰러졌다.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thoughts on listening to The Four-Hour Body (abridged)

The Four-Hour Body
Timothy Ferriss

A friend lent me the abridged audio-book version of this. There were a lot of things I didn't know when I started listening. I didn't know it was abridged, although I kind of guessed. Having never seen the cover, I was quite surprised when he started talking about sex all of a sudden. I had been expecting just general fitness stuff.

I also didn't even guess from The title that it was by the same guy as The Four-Hour Workweek, which I had seen in bookstores. It turns out that the four hours in the title of this book doesn't mean four hours per week or anything much really, but seems to be in the title mainly to reinforce the connection to the successful workweek predecessor. (It could be interpreted as four hours of exercise per month, as recommended as thirty minutes twice per week.

I can't say that the whole method overall seems that time-efficient, really. Ferris is super OCD, and (was) an insomniac to boot - it seems like he spends a huge amount of time tweaking and messing with every little thing he can find. He recommends more crazy weird supplements than I could even keep track of. Not to mention ice baths and a low-carb diet he calls "slow carb". Oh, and a bunch of machines and lights for aiding sleep and so on.

He does keep it interesting throughout, and I do want to try to decrease my empty carb calorie intake, which is advice you can hear anywhere. I may also try his exercise program, which is just based on doing exercised to (exhaustion) failure, every time, minimizing the time to failure to a minute or so.

He also mentioned some supplement for memory that sounded interesting, but I'd have to check to find the name of it again. And he said there were nasty side-effects, so maybe I won't even check. I felt like I was missing things sometimes; transitions were choppy, or things didn't seem fully explained. I guess that'll be the abridgment.

In any event, you can't deny this Ferriss guy is an interesting character.


Dang, you really CAN get a lot about a book just by looking at the cover, can't you?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

토픽 대비반 글쓰기 2

2011.2.19 초상권이라는 것은 있는가?

권리란 건 원래 추상적인 개념에 불과하다. 그런가 하면 경찰하고 재판이 사회적으로 해야하는 역할은 아주 구체적인 공동 사회의 안전을 지키는 것이다. 이 소중한 목적을 잘 이루기 위해서 모둔 방법을 이용할 책무가 있다. 이 방법들 중에서 하나는 국민들한테 위험한 사람들에 대해서 알려주는 것이다.

인권을 생각하면 초상권이 제일 먼저 생각이 나는 게 아니다. 겁쟁이가 원하는 "권리"라고 할까, 사기꾼이나 그냥 범인이 원하는 "권리"라고 할까? 잘못이 없으면 얼굴을 가릴 필요없다.

실수는 누구든지 하는 건데 실수하면 책임을 지는 건 그 사실을 비밀로 하는 것도 아니고 그 사실을 인정해야 새롭게 시작할 수 있다.

물론 범인들은 다 재범하는 법이 없지만 보통 사람보다는 범죄를 할 가능성이 훨씬 높다. 범인들은 초상권이 없고 주변에 있는 사람들은 알 권리가 있다.

결론적으로 인격권들은 사회의 발전에 기야하지 않는다면 존재 가치도 없다. 인간들은 각자 한 짓들에 대해서 하나하나 책임을 져야 공동 사회에 좋다. 그러므로 사람들이 알면 알수록 좋다.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How to Win Friends and Influence People

At James' suggestion, I listened to this book over the past week. Despite the slightly ridiculous title, it seems like quite the fine book. Might even help me to be a little less curmudgeonly! I like the book's old-timey-ness (originally published 1936 or something) and it does still seem quite relevant. Good for people such as myself, with a tendency to be a dick most of the time. I also like that the book is very self-consistent; it seems to be written mostly according to the principles that it espouses. Consistency is good. Anyway, mostly stuff that should be obvious (smile, don't criticize people, etc.) that I tend to forget about. I'll see if I can remember, and try to apply some of the stuff in my teaching too.