Skanky Nerd Land

Sex, Science and Concept Art

Category: Musings & Meditations

Life, Death, Infinities and Material Things

I’ve been going around asking for everyone’s Personal Destiny. It sounds cheesy, but that’s part of the fun. Surprisingly, most people do know the answer. Its surprising because, the way people go about their lives, you’d think they didn’t. If they did know, why weren’t they taking the steps to fulfill it?

We fret at the threshold of peace (at death’s door) as we have been stripped of all our goods. Our cargo of life has been jettisoned, and we are in distress; for no part of it has been packed in the hold. It has been heaved over board and drifted away. Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man’s power to live long. – From the Letters of Seneca

I also came across this great video which proves why some infinities are bigger than other infinities. This is one small example of why everyone who says science strips the magic out of the world is wrong. Paired with the Seneca quote, my point is that a long life isn’t necessarily worth more than a short one.

…What we do know is that if life has infinite moments or infinite love or infinite being, then a life twice as long still has exactly the same amount. Some infinities only look bigger than other infinities and some infinities that seem very small are worth just as much as infinities 10 times their size – Vi Hart, Proof Some Infinities are Bigger than Other Infinities

We’re here for so short a time in the large scheme of things; instead of allowing our fears to direct us, we might as well live according to our destiny.

better thinking through daydreaming, learning how to learn, review week one

Better Thinking through Daydreaming

This is a review of week 1 of the Coursera course, Learning how to Learn. The concepts introduced here focus on how to think and learn better, which requires two different approaches.

These two modes are the focused mode and the diffused mode. The fact that both have equal importance in the thinking process is often overlooked. The importance of daydreaming is something that is often eschewed in favour of the protestant work ethic. Greg (my Irish friend) often complains that most of what is classified as ‘English Literature’ is in fact from Ireland and the other Gaelic countries, his theory is that it’s because the Protestant work ethic never caught on in Ireland.

CNN has a great article “For a more productive life, Daydream“, which sums up this concept extremely well. We need to leave time in the day to dream. For me, this means making sure to know when enough is enough on a task; realising when additional time spent on it will only lead to frustration.

This leads to the other point, that learning is best done through spaced repetition. Walking away from a task, relaxing, doing something else, and returning back to it the next day will help us approach the problem with fresh insights. A little bit everyday is better than a lot all at once. It’s funny how all these ideas already out there are clichéd idioms which we don’t pay attention to because we’ve heard them so many times we think we know what they mean, but actually don’t.

Spaced repetition is also a good way to tackle procrastination. Instead of thinking of the mountain of a task you have ahead of you, you could think of the first few steps you need to take. Choose those steps. Take some time to figure out the route that is right for you. Once that’s done, put it on your to do list. I personally don’t have a procrastination problem, because my to-do list handles that.

Another important way of handling procrastination is understanding the cues, routines and rewards associated with handling tasks. Facebook has come up as the number 1 tool for procrastination because it has hijacked our internal cue-routine- reward system. The moment you enter Facebook, you are presented with a cue (red notification button) to keep scrolling down your news feed. You enter the routine (scrolling down the news feed) and the system continuously rewards you (giving you the impression you’re learning something new all the time). It’s dangerous.

But you can use Pavlovian processes for good. Figure out what gets you to start doing what you want to do, and instead of procrastinating, do that. For me, it is enough to say “The time is now”, or if the time is not now, then the time is the soonest time you can affect the change. Tonight, tomorrow morning. But you’d better start doing it tomorrow. Next week is too late.

Finally, there are two other things that are absolutely key to making sure you are at the top of your mental game, and stay the top. The first is sleep, the second exercise.

This important finding is highlighted in an NPR article “Brains Sweep Themselves Clean of Toxins During Sleep“. Sleep is important, because if you don’t get enough, you are looking towards Alzheimer’s and an early grave. We all know we can’t think clearly without enough sleep, yet so many of us give ourselves so little time for this key activity.

Exercise is important for so many things, and indeed, a healthy body makes for a healthy mind. For a long time, it was believed that neuron growth stopped once we reached adulthood. That neurons could be rewired to learn new things, but our brain’s capacity stayed the same. Now, we know that exercise can subvert this depressing fact. This enlightening discover is outlined in an article in the Guardian: Start Running and Watch your Brain Grow.

ADHD, Creativity, and Learning

I started a fascinating course on learning how to learn. The advice is based on the latest research in neuroscience, and is excellent if you’re interested in improving how you think and learn, and in how the brain works.

This week, the lectures are about Renaissance learning. We now know how our minds process memory, and how it coordinates working memory and long term memory. The amount of slots in a person’s working memory is also known. This varies, of course, but according to the course, it’s about four slots. Some people have more, some have less. How we access our working memory also varies.

Einstellung Tight Working Memory, ADHD, Creativity, and Learning

A. Tight and focused working memory

Creative Working Memory, ADHD, Creativity, and Learning

B. Diffused working memory

People with Type A working memory have better focus and memory, allowing them to quickly and efficiently solve difficult problems. People with Type B working memory have a more diffused approached towards processing new information and may take longer than Type As to learn new things. The upside though is that a person with a more diffused approach towards assimilating new information will be more creative during their learning.

A wonderful article in Scientific American, “The Creative Gifts of ADHD” illuminate the differences:

Despite their reduced working memory, 53% of the academically advanced students with ADHD characteristics scored above the 70th percentile on the creativity index. In fact, for both the ADHD and the non-ADHD group of students, the poorer the working memory, the higher the creativity!

Another great finding:

People with ADHD often are able to focus better than others when they are deeply engaged in an activity that is personally meaningful to them.

This research has been particularly meaningful to me as I’ve often felt I was trying gain understanding and apply new knowledge in a way that was not suitable to my personality. I have a tendency to pack in my days too tight with all the things I want to do, even things I’m not particularly interested in but had decided is ‘good for me’ and get extremely upset when my mind simply can’t cope. There have been many times I wish I had Type A focus. But, as is evidence from the findings – when one door closes, another opens!

Retro Predictions of the Future

An ode to corporate finance and social ‘ science’ won a competition on predicting the future. I’m not sure if it was parody, or if its author, James Fletcher, was perfectly serious.

Check out these gems:

“[Kingdom City] represented a triumph for private finance and social science collaboration, setting a precedent for socially conscious corporation rule with minimal state involvement.”

“Whilst trickle down economics and stringent immigration controls have all but ended real-term deprivation, inequality remains entrenched. Employed by London Inc., who are concerned by talent prevention, I am currently developing proposals to stimulate social mobility. This is just one example of how corporate-social science synergy is cultivating prosperous city societies in 2065.”

He may be right, or wrong, but one thing’s for sure, aren’t these retro Randian ideas from the 50’s given a new coating of Paris green?

I dislike unchecked optimism unless its relegated to a far off future. The second placed essay is still optimistic but much more muted, championing collaboration between scientist and indigenous populations. Even the third essay has more contemporary ideas. I suppose no prize worth winning comes without its vested interests.

Outside the House of Terror

This happened years ago; I was coming down on a cold winter morning in Budapest. It was one of those mornings where I really felt the world was beautiful, and that we, as a species, had left the Great Filter behind. Surely we are to become great space faring critters one day! A bit later, I walked past the House of Terror, which is a torture museum, and it occurred to me that sane people aren’t intrinsically evil, but are simply ignorant. After all, look how far we’ve come… the fact that there was a torture museum meant torture was a thing of the past. I’m still, ultimately, an optimist, but realise how untrue that thought is now. How easily we can revert back to our animal selves, governed by the indifferent brutality of evolution, from which both beautiful and ugly things come forth.

Tug of War

Given that we are a non-monogamous species by nature, the ribbon that ties up poly-pandora’s box is held in a tug of war between our feelings of jealousy, and our need for novelty. The freedom we are willing to give, and the freedom we crave.

Some believe jealousy is a cultural construct. Subtle forms… perhaps, but sexual jealousy, and the need to possess a partner (and all its associated behaviours) are fully natural. The one sole purpose of our existence, for most of the time since sexual reproduction was evolved, is to ensure that our genes made it to the next generation. In order for this to happen, we had to find the best mate available to us, and keep this mate around long enough to ensure adequate resources for child rearing. Hence, the existence of jealousy.

Naturally, most of the people I’m familiar with share my world view on the matter. Although I know some to whom infidelity would be unthinkable, if (and only if!) they were in a relationship they were fully happy with. I’m skeptical. Variety is part of a happy, healthy relationship. A friend expressed that the creepiest thing about most couples is that partners were forbidden to express desire for others. So, in fact, most people live a lie. Because of this, we’re serial monogamists more than anything else. This is the most common romantic arrangement.

Safe and Warm in a Deadly World

Safe and Warm in a Deadly World

Mikaart -

“You know how it is when you’ve been up too long, the apartment’s trashed, everything is silent, the sun’s about to come up and you’re feeling like some germ stuck to a big cold rock, hurtling through space, and somehow you don’t mind?”- Shakey, Neil Young’s Biography

It’s bizarre. We’re hurling through the universe on a rock orbiting a sun destined to burn up our civilisation. Yet, for all of our existence, when we walk through a forest, make love, listen to a moving piece of music, this doesn’t occur to us. We have evolved to view the world on terms which help us survive. For most of us, it is an artificial world we perceive as safe and warm. A world constructed out of the class we were born into and the comforts we feel entitled to.

Reality is always there, helping us perceive the world we live in as safe. That our atmosphere will not dissipate over night and we’ll be flung out into space. Just as we have evolved to perceive danger, we’re born with a mental model of a world we haven’t yet seen. One we will have to learn to tease apart and deconstruct in order to learn that it’s not real. But without it, we cannot exist.

Hellenic Mathematics and Spaceflight

bridge over sky, mathematics, abstract, copyright free,

After the Greeks, it’s almost as if we stopped exploring the universe, both the Platonic and the Aristotelian. Looking back, it seems rather incredible that such a long span of time could have passed before we picked up the baton (by we, I refer to all of us that have been born under the aegis of the scientific method) and continued where they left of.

The incredible thing about mathematics is that it holds true, throughout all time, throughout all possible universes.  It is a landscape whose known boundaries can only be drawn back. Its truths are eternal.

I find it a wonder that the discoveries of Apollonius, a millennia and a half before the Renaissance, could reach out across time, freeing us from an era of geocentricism, into the age of space exploration. His text, inscribed on a piece of animal skin, endured and fell into the hands of Kepler, who, along with his contemporaries, gave us modern astronomy. It it likely possible that he, or someone else of his time, would have unveiled the laws of planetary motion without Apollonius’s work on conic sections; but so strongly was the Renaissance inspired by the spirit of Greek Antiquity that it is impossible to imagine one without the other.

What is even more incredible is that in between Apollonius and Kepler, a highly plastic form of numerical representation was codified and popularised. The re-discovery of zero and other mathematical concepts, which spread from India and the Middle-East to Europe, through their usefulness in economic matters, eventually reached the Renaissance scientists. These new concepts unlocked the entire universe to us. The discovery, or non-discovery, of symbolic numerical representation and the concept of zero is a civilisational filter.

Apollonius couldn’t know the applications of his theory when he wrote them down. He was simply exploring the world and charting what he saw. Only over a millennia later, did their applicability become apparent. Conics was a fragment that held the future, that lead to the discovery of relativity, black holes, anti-matter and all manner of wonderful beasts.

We cannot even begin to imagine all that is possible, with what we know today. I find that incredible.

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