Neuro-neuromania-mania: An enthusiastic and reductionist way of thinking, in which the affected believes that every person around him suffers of neuro-reductionistic maniac behavior. 

Hi again!

I’ve watched recently the presentation below by Professor Raymond Tallis — and reaction by Matthew Taylor —, titled Neuromania?, about how the materialist view of mind is poorly justified (or I’ll let you think that’s what it’s about). I recommend you watch it first and read my comments later.


Disclaimer: I should say that I consider the presentation of Professor Tallis quite valuable and powerful food for thought, even if I have some trouble showing it.

OooK. So Profesor Tallis main argument seems to be that some portion of the neuroscience community (and the general public) suffers from neuromania, a cognitive illness in which you mix up correlation with causation, and causation with identity. We, bunch of post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc-ers!! (not that I am in any meaningful sense part of the neuroscience community, or the general public, or any public, for that matter)

Later on, the video degrades to a less-useful debate, each side trying to keep afoot while trying to make the other one tumble. But first things first: how come neuromaniacs can’t tell between correlation and identity? Professor Tallis says that, because neuromaniacs see a correlation between certain experiential events and certain neurophysiological events, they think those events are identical.

And neuromaniacs do, for sure, by definition!! Another entirely different assertion is saying that a relevant portion of neuroscientists also err that way. Let’s focus on the correlation equals causation part, with a little thought experiment.

Let’s suppose almost each time you feel the bitter-sweet-greasy-creamy-frozen taste of chocolate ice cream certain portion of your brain fires in some recognizable pattern as measured by our imaginary equipment. That’s correlation. If you go yelling at other people that you have proof of causation, then you’re wron-nnnnnggg. But if you say you have a hint of causation, well, keep searching, maybe you’re on to something.

Now, let’s suppose that our imaginary equipment is able to reproduce the firing pattern in your brain and, voilà, you feel again the same sensation, but without the ice cream. And you repeat the test with other people, keep the myriad of experimental biases into account, etc., and keep getting the same reliable result. You can go and say now that you have evidence (not proof) of causation!! And please do not yell.

And that’s the way science works (sort of): with a lot of correlations, some evidence for causation, seemingly sound explanations, no proofs whatsoever, and an intended guarantee of falsifiability.

Moral: Correlation does not imply causation, though correlation is necessary for (certain forms of) causation, and could be indeed a hint of it.

Or,

Scientists following correlation hints do not represent maniac behavior, but those following hints as dogma do. Burn’em all.

P.S.: About the causation equals identity part, let’s follow our previous Gedankenexperiment. Strong evidence of a necessary and sufficient condition pretty much amounts to a logical if-and-only-if (iff.), which is closely related to logical equality. No identity necessarily here, though.

xkcd - Wikipedian Protester (via http://xkcd.com)

Hi.

Long time without a post. But this time I have a reason. And not only that, but the reason that I bring to you this time is quite powerful. I’ve applied bad execution practices.

Guess what. I have a couple of half-done posts that are waiting to “get finished” to be published. The problem is I haven’t had the time to polish them till the point I’m comfortable enough to consider them final. But the truth is that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, or a final release. Everything is a work-in-progress, until some day when we stop working on it and becomes an abandoned work-in-progress. If we share our projects with the world maybe they will be useful for someone; but usually we have our egos mediating the road to project starvation before someone ever gets to know we’ve been working on  something.

And this is just a blog right? A dead post is no big deal. But the pattern tends to go on to larger endeavours. Software projects, research projects, books, music, films, and a lot more. But then someone came up with a great idea:

Why not make the whole process open?

And open source was born. To open source something (and not only software) means that you accept to make public your mistakes, as well as your successes. To benefit others and be benefited. To criticize and be criticized. To teach and learn.

A gift that came with the Web 2.0 and further with activity streams (like Twitter or –less– Facebook) is the capability to trust other people. That one is also a gift of the open source community.  The world is not a zero-sum game and collaboration is our most powerful key to success.

So I propose to you:

Don’t wait to get your project finished, if you can articulate your vision you’re good to go.
Share your visions with the world an let’s build’em together.

Further reading/watching:

- Google I/O 2009 – The Myth of the Genius Programmer

- “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”

- Is scientific publishing about to be disrupted?

- The world’s first open movie

And an open encyclopedia that just works

The Mars Volta

Culture is shamelessly recombinant

I’m listening to that offspring of The Mars Volta’s creative and prolific irreverence, De-loused in the Comatorium, while writing this.

“[...] This is the house of Roulette Dares / Ruse of metacarpi / Caveat Emptor / To all that enter here [...]“

Non-sensical lyrics, proficient instrumentation, bizarre orchestration and dissonance at length. The Mars Volta draws on rock, jazz, punk, electronic music, salsa and cuban son (and a lot more) to bring something that could be plain eclecticism, but raises as a new sound. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t; but the sole fact that works for some people, and that is different, makes it remarkable.

And not only “worth talking about” as Seth Godin would say, but also “worth identifying with”. That’s when you project yourself onto something and the result tells a story about you.

But building an identity requires effort. Requires you to not stand still, passive, while others decide what you listen to, wear, read, say or think. That gets patience, persistence and passion.  Demands your attention, questions your self-perception, and furthers your aesthetic conception.

There is an anthropologist (whose newest book I’ve been reading this week),  Grant McCracken, who coined a term for a powerful concept. The Diderot effect. When there is some A related to some B, such that when you let A go in, B makes his way in too.  I recommend reading Diderot’s tale about a man who changed his gown, and a whole change came with it. I specially like this excerpt below, reminding us that there is no such thing as a ‘finished’ taste:

“[...] the most sublime taste is not exempt from change; change means throwing things away, turning things upside down, building something new; in the end there is nothing left in the family strongbox [...]“

It is worth noting that he also warns us about this easy path to bankruptcy =P. As could be seen, this Diderot effect is highly tied to our consumerist behaviour. Is information, aesthetics and knowledge consumerism. And with new connections, it is now more than ever a social one. It’s just that I’m not sure we should refrain from it. In a time where the social and economic ideologies of half-a-century ago fell apart and lost their appeal for most (and I mean even the ‘capitalist’ ones), we are left only with a personal quest.

Going back on track, our identity quest requires effort, and if I’m to stay faithful to previous thoughts (surely that won’t last for long), the only way you can build this identity thing is with impulses. A train, a sequence, of impulses. While they are short-lived you can benefit from them if you capture their energy. If they build one on top of the other – you integrate over them -, you are going somewhere. Your personal path.

But they not pile in a linear fashion, they interact and conform different personas inside you. Personas whose dynamics come as transitions and transformations. That’s the topic of Part 2.

Till next time!

OMG!!! I have a blog dying of starvation

Don’t panic. As irrelevant as it could seem, this blog will stay here  for long; just for the sake of the time we could have used but instead just wasted.

I’m really a busy guy (and know we all are btw), who employs his time working on a myriad of things… from which he only finishes those he gets paid for.  As is my custom, I like to watch over myself and find patterns of behavior. That’s why I amuse myself seeing how our micro-planning level is guided more by the mood and the instant motivation than by our highest goals in life.

But the fact is that our human experience is built from a set of little samples of time weaved in a sort of continuous fabric. And therefore we really don’t have the control of our lives.

Oh, if you are a successful (whatever it means) student, professional, father or another, you should be thinking that I’m being carried over by my feelings at the moment, and am overly pessimistic. And, oh, yes, you are quite right. But as I suppose, you also have your pessimistic moments; which only favors my argument =).

On the other hand (yeah, I know you still have your point), I’ve been quite lucky in life and managed to get where I wanted. But that wasn’t by a continuous, persistent, and managed effort towards one goal, but instead by singularities, or selected actions in specific moments. An impulse-function-of-effort that changed the path of what would have been an otherwise boring existence.  Of course, The biggest thinks I’ve done comprise not one, but many of those impulses.

So our life is mostly we fighting against our basic desires: I’m hungry right know, I’d rather drink beer all night,  let’s do whatever-different-from-what-we-should, or better just content omitted to keep PG-13 rating. Nonetheless, to put an end to this seemingly endless rant against our nature, I acknowledge sometimes there really are brief, sustained, and pleasing efforts towards a goal.

Our enlightenment moments.

When we’re being productive, happy and (the magic word) motivated. As I happen to think, motivation is all about identity and self-value. When we are motivated everything flows (Oh look! tautologies all over the way — popular definition of  motivation: “Motivation is the activation or energization of goal-oriented behavior”), and we feel good!

I’m heading to that elusive concept called Identity. Better regarded as a process than a value, a transformation if you prefer, is more important when built than when shown.

In order to not extend this post too much, I’ll stop here till next post, where I intend to show some connections between identity, motivation and what the hell is our purpose in this existence.

Blatantly without a single reference. Omitted a bad joke on the value of time by a female musician on a  well-regarded talk, a reference to a popular online encyclopedia (Ha, guess that one!), a book about identity construction by a blogger (soon saying blogger will be as informative as saying talker: one who talks),  and god knows what else because I should had been writing down those when I still remembered. The reference to the non-existent galactic encyclopedia is explicit enough.

See ya next time!!

Any blog that tries to define a concept is pretentious and, furthermore, often wrong. That’s why I’ll take the easy way and use a reference =).

As you could find in a popular web site, Social Dynamics is:

“the study of the ability of a society to react to inner and outer changes and deal with its regulation mechanisms”

So basically, when we are talking about Social Dynamics, we are just referring to how a social group evolves as it environment changes (and usually we think about that social group as a set of variables). We could be talking about lions in the Sahara or teens in Facebook.

Teens in Facebook is, indeed, a quite pertinent topic these days. And it’s not that Facebook is a super-cool thing, it’s just that the social networks have dynamics that we haven’t seen before, or at least not in this form. As shown in Social Dynamics in Age of the Web by Bernardo A. Huberman of HP Labs, the “economics of attention” that evidences on every rich information environment is critical in the web. As Seth Godin expresses it “in a world where we have too many choices and too little time, the obvious thing to do is just ignore stuff”. Now attention is our most scarce and valuable resource.

But there’s more. Not only attention is precious, but ephemeral. Huberman shows what happens in the “time dimension” to news on Digg. They gain momentum quickly but attention on them peaks early, and soon drops to low levels and finally vanishes. And the reason is quite simple: novelty goes away really fast!

So the moral is: Fight hard for attention, and once you have it, act fast or lose it.

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