Saturday, October 31, 2015

Animal Placebo

If it were not hard enough to define what consciousness is, then comes the issue of whether animals have extended consciousness, or self-perception. And then which animals. A very rudimentary test seems to be the mirror test where an animal is marked with a mark only visible in a mirror and humans monitor for mark grooming behaviors in front of the mirror.

Why dwell on this vexing question when much smarter and specialized minds already tried? I was not trying I swear, but I just heard about some medical research in mice where the results were broken into three groups: Mice that got the medicine, mice that did not get anything, and mice that got a placebo.

I said voila! If researchers had the need to create a mice placebo control group, or circularly if the results between the placebo and the untreated mice were different I thought that would settle the issue. A small step for mice a huge step for mankind.

Intuitively the placebo effect has to be based on consciousness even if there is no consciousness definition.

But when I checked the facts I am not that sure. The documented rodent placebo effect is more conditioning type of effect a la Pavlov, not so much a mouse being told "take this pill and see me next week".  And the dog placebo effect reported by veterinarians is biased by human placebo, namely the owners fall for the placebo their dogs are taking and believe the dog's condition has improved. That in itself is revealing of a Placebo that is purely mental and unrelated to any anatomical response, as it occurs outside the subject being treated.

Disappointing, but fear not, we will not leave empty handed. At the very least I can offer a testable consciousness definition as: "A mental process subject to the Placebo effect".

Paradoxically can we claim we humans are smarter than animals when we fall for Placebos while animals do not?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Salt Pillars

There was a four lane bowling alley in my childhood, the Carrasco Bowling.  It was a few blocks from the house we rented for the summer. The long idle summer of us children. We roamed the Bowling Alley many times, we rented their special shoes and rolled the bowling balls with our two small hands a couple of times. As a child I did not understand why the place was bombed and reduced to rubble before the following summer.

Analyzing the recent past is not easy judging by the discord and vitriol associated with competing narratives. This was the Cold War coming to a theater near me. A few blocks away to be precise. It was a message to the oligarchy said the perpetrators, one of which became the country's president a few years ago. Being the past so nonsensical and so immutable makes me want to find refuge in the future instead. 

May be that was the reason Mrs. Lot was warned not to look back. Six words state what happened when she looked back, yet I found nineteen different English variants, and many pages of commentary on that simple event.

One of them of note:
"But Lot's wife looked back longingly and was turned into a pillar of salt."

where longingly implies the problem was looking at the past, not just back at a physical place.

A pillar of salt, what a great metaphor for the paralyzing danger of dwelling in the past.

There are two ways of avoiding looking at the past. One way is being young and having no past to look at. The other way preached by my father is staying busy,  the opposite of the long idle summer of a child.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Standing on the Shoulders

When it comes to making discoveries standing on the shoulders of giants helps us see farther.  Standing at the grave of giants I miss the view and I miss the giant.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Nobody is a Villain

In the joke the officer tells the child visiting the precinct that all these pictures on the wall are of people wanted by the police, and the child asks why didn't the police catch them when they took their pictures... Same here, I had no chance to take her picture. This lady made me break the strict rule of using only pictures taken by myself. For this story I had no choice.

If I ever learned anything about self perception it is that nobody is a villain in his own mind. Not even the smiling lady you see here, 

She is a well educated lady from Barueri (Sao Paulo) in Brazil. She is an outspoken critic of Brazil's corruption and is even vocally asking for the impeachment of the president Dilma Rousseff. But in her own mind she cannot be the villain that cheats in one of the many ways the era of e-commerce and airbnb allows one to cheat. 

Alessandra rented a country house through her well verified airbnb identity for the best weeks of the southern season, only to send some friends instead of Alessandra Daloia herself. These friends used the property for two nights while searching for alternate accommodations, accommodations closer to gambling and night life. Alessandra Daloia Souza cancelled the reservation while creating bogus excuses about moldy swimming pools. The brazilian males abandoned the property, never contacted the owner, and sheepishly screened phone calls from then on. 

I already knew that nobody sees him or herself as a villain, but Alessandra upped the ante.  She painted herself as the victim while filling her mouth with anti-corruption diatribes. Maybe airbnb should have a Hamlet test to screen out the lady that doth protest too much, methinks.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rule the World

Twenty two brave athletes sweating the Brazilian weather on beautiful World Cup pitches may impress many, but being there only reinforced my notion that the world is ruled by women. At least the world around me, in near proximity or with which I have broader affinity.

The subtleties of soft power cannot go unnoticed over time. Who sets priorities, who makes the tough calls, who really has sway in eight-out-of-ten households, who decides on a house purchase. One can go from fact to stereotype to caricature, but the idea has been brewing in my mind that we men are just useful idiots, and often not that useful.

The metaphor of men is that of World Cup players, physical, determined, with a sense of purpose that may or may not transcend gender. Pawns in a bigger game. Look "La FIFA" has a female gender.

The sweetest paradox is that cultures where women do not rule (yet), have no soccer presence in the world stage really.  And the conclusive proof may have gone unnoticed to the armies of commentators in Brazil 2014. Three of the four semi-finalist countries are run by a woman head of state, and the fourth, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was run by queens since 1890 until Beatrix abdicated last year, probably to have more time to follow the World Cup.

This blog proves I retain my freedom of opinion, even if our male opinions may matter less than we thought. I do not complain, relevant or not my blog has alway done one thing to perfection. When I read my own posts I feel exactly the way I did when I wrote them. That is as close as I can get to a time travel machine. Plus that picture takes me back to Fortaleza, Brazil just before the madness started.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

When Nobody is Watching

"Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching". 
I find different forms of this quote going back more than one hundred years. So many variants, so many authors, they can't be wrong.

The chances to exercise our integrity are dwindling. An estimate of 1.85 million CCTV cameras in the UK, one for every 32 people. The Washington Post says the NSA can scan 1.7 billion emails a day. Everybody wants our data to rummage through. The privacy ambiguity introduced by the cyber lives we invented makes it hard to know when no one is watching. 

Given this is only getting worse we need new workable quotes for integrity and character. Something like "character is what you do when you think nobody is watching", and I have already read variations of that sort. 

Or maybe "doing the right thing when nobody cares", because all these Big Data engines are not really judging me I believe. Even if they are I may not care about their opinions of me. It would read as "doing the right thing even though we do not care about our reputation to the watcher. Nah, too long. 

The sign at Dojo had it right, "doing the right thing regardless of the consequences".

But then again there was another Japanese proverb used at the Dojo that conveyed the opposite.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Degrees of Separation

An instructor once told us that a classic conflict source was expectations mismatch between parties. She gave us marital and corporate examples. Her point was that these mismatches are solvable with the right appreciation and tools. They are not irreconcilable.

Arizona desert trip planning guides we read last year made the same point. Frictions surface in family trips precisely at the time people should be in their most fun and easy going moods. Mismatched expectations, nothing deeper than that. And once identified we can fix it by aligning expectations, I guess.

To align expectations in our trip we can divide the time to visit each other's friends, we can divide meal preferences. If we can split atoms what could possibly get in the way? 

It is August in Tel Aviv, hot as always, and air conditioners have gotten very good indeed.

But temperature remains indivisible. Setting the thermostat is an unsolvable mismatch in expectations. This time we have technology to blame. We went from suffering together to fighting over who suffers the other's temperature preferences.

I found the reason, its the thermostat stupid. Next comes an academic paper plotting divorce rate vs. temperature preference differential. It is titled degrees of separation.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Poor Man Rejoice

Finding anything previously misplaced around the house always follows this script:

- Me: "When does a poor man rejoice?"
A rare case where the original expression "Cuando se alegra un pobre?" sounds better and more compact in Spanish than in English.
- Her: "Oh shut up you are not poor.

The expected answer, from my father, is: "When he finds what he lost"

"A poor man rejoices when he reclaims what he lost" is the best approximation. Though it is not really joy, and what I reclaimed was not exactly lost.

It feels more like a boxer winning a fight. In many ways.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Most Interesting Man in the World

He has received acceptance letters from all Ivy League schools... that he has not applied to...
He was awarded a full scholarship... just for posing in their college
He graduated Summa Cum Laude... from elementary school..
Teachers ask him for letters of recommendation...
He was only once a point short of a perfect exam score... only because he was given the wrong test form...
A fellow student once received an approving nod from him... and ended up listing it on his resume...
Schools ask him for merit-based financial aid...
Universities send him essays on why they are a good fit for him...
He is... The Most Interesting Applicant In The World.

'I don't usually send out applications, but when I do, I send them to BU.'

That was Ben's essay for Boston University where the Most Interesting Man In The World really studied. 

In my day it barely required having a pulse, but today college admission is a highly choreographed game refereed by arbitrary characters behind a desk. Applicants go to the far ends of the planet for community work credentials. My spleen says that if all submissions were true there would be more applicants volunteering in Asian orphanages than orphans in Asia. Artifacts of a game they make you play.

Game over, now colleges fight for Ben while we sip a Dos Equis. Stay thirsty my friends...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Incredibles

The dust has long settled on the theme of teams beating individuals, or viceversa. We already passed judgement on that in the old post Teams vs. Individuals.   But what if the participants are of the Superhero class. A Superhero in a comic book and in real life has extraordinary powers of some sort.

These extraordinary powers are generally uni-dimensional, either the ability to fly, run at amazing speeds, climb walls like arachnids, or some other very specific quality. Even a Superhero cannot excel at everything.

Specialized traits force screenwriters to sacrifice credibility through plots where a narrow ability somehow saves the day. This is compounded by most superheroes working independently, so if there is no use for the skill, that is it, the superhero is as powerless as any mortal.

Sometimes, like in The Incredibles, Superheroes operate as a team, in this case as a family of superheroes. Interestingly its creator, Brad Bird, was open to a sequel of the movie if he could come up with a plot superior to the original one. 

Here are the powers the sequel characters should have. They are not physical powers, that is boring, we already have powerful machines.

One has the trait of knowledge. Knowledge is power you might say, and we can use that character in half the action movies you see on TV. 

A second one knows how to read people, a not so subtle variant over raw knowledge. Reading people helps untangle things involving human motives and actions. Tangle and untangle people.

And the third just understands. Hard to explain what understanding the essence of things means, but superheroes are seen in action, not explained.

Reality provides abundant plots. Having named their powers I can now stop and let plots happen.