Monthly Archives: November 2013

Identically Different – Tim Spector: Review

Spector is a highly respected geneticist. His work on the human genome project and the like is daunting, and is a perfect person to write a book that furthers the understanding of the increasingly complex world of genetics.

The reader can tell that he’s not a typical writer. Many chapters end with the reader being required to deduce the final opinion or result. However, a lot of the research (since its so cutting edge) is not conclusive. It only points to possible theories. Much of the time a final result or opinion is possible. Though I think it would flow better if the author simply stated this.

As for content, he basically sums up why genetics is much more complicated than previously thought. His use of twins in statistically deducing the subtleties of hereditary characteristics is wonderful. A main point is that besides genetic code, there is something called epigenetic coding that turns on or off genes. This allows the genes to either be expressed or not. This is a simplification but is indicative of the main idea.

It’s certainly worth the time. I would read Richard Dawkins’ “Selfish Gene” first though.

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Natural vs. verbalized ability

In Western Academics, it is taught that the ability to verbalize and describe something is indicative of the understanding one has regarding that topic.

If students are given three words and asked to answer what connection the words have, or if there is no connection, an interesting thing will happen. The students will be able to answer with a certain degree of accuracy. But, if in the middle of the exercise, if they are asked whether or not they think they will be able to find the connection between words, they will do so with uncanny accuracy.

So if you think about “water”, “salt” and “fish”, you will feel that they are connected. After feeling that they are connected, then you will say “sea” or “ocean”.

The point is that there is a great degree of merit in a naturalistic knowledge that is more basal for humans than is sometimes understood in Western understanding. With many more neurons in the brain involved in subconscious cognition, not to mention the millions located in the gut, it seems we’re smarter than we think, when we think, we are.

Also, if anyone can remember where this study was done, please comment! Thanks.

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Belief in randomness as it relates to the concept of God

Randomness by definition cannot be known. That’s its primal property.

God by most definitions is omniscient.

Those two do not match. If you believe in God, than that entity must know how the dice will fall. Which means the dice aren’t random. That’s a conundrum. Comments?

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War and Peace – Tolstoy: Review

There have been some posts with regards to this book. For someone who doesn’t read a lot of fiction, this was well worth my reading time.

It is Tolstoy’s understanding of complex environments that was found to be so amazing and many human conditions and biases that have, since the time of his writing, been well documented.

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The tendency to seek explanation

Tolstoy understands perfectly the tendency for humans to seek explanation where none in particular actually exists.
“History is the fiction we invent to persuade ourselves that events are knoweable and that life has order and direction” – Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes
From Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’:
“In historical writings about the year 1812, French authors like very much to speak of how Napoleon sensed the danger of extending his line, how he sought a battle, how his marshals advised him to stop at Smolensk, and to bring forth other similar arguments to prove that even then the danger of the campaign was supposedly understood; and Russian like still more to speak of how from the beginning of the campaign there existed a Scythian war plan of luring Napoleon into the depths of Russia, and one ascribes this plan to Pfuel, another to some Frenchman, another to Toll, another to emperor Alexander himself, pointing to reports, projects and letters that indeed contain hints at such a way of action. But all these hints at foreseeing of what happened, both on the part of the French and on the part of the Russians, are now put forward only because events justified them. If the events had not occurred, those hints would have been forgotten, as thousands and millions of contrary hints and suppositions that were current then, but turned out to be incorrect, are now forgotten. There are always so many suppositions about the outcome of every event which takes place that, however it ends, people will always be found to say, “I said back then that it would be like this,” quite forgetting that among the numberless suppositions, there were some that were completely contrary. The suppositions about Napoleon’s awareness of the danger of extending his line and, on the Russian side, about luring the enemy into the depths of Russia, obviously belong to this category.”  (italics are mine)
It’s incredible that 140 years ago, a man could so aptly describe this natural tendency (the survivorship bias http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias being part) that has now been documented so well. Though it has a disheartening side. It is apparent that it is very hard to learn the lessons provided by this; that chaos can and does rule so much of human life and that explanations of complex environments are often proximate or simply wrong. It certainly happens in business all the time especially when critics spew every supposition that comes to mind when presented with a new business and whether or not it will fail.
The following article is a well rounded account of this pattern seeking nature by a very reputable source: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=patternicity-finding-meaningful-patterns
Ours is a race of patterns seekers and when presented with random data points, will usually think something is there.

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