Monthly Archives: November 2008

‘To die, to sleep … To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause…’ – Hamlet

Status quo bias


– A report by the president’s council on bioethics: Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness



“… Yet if there is merit in the suggestion that too long a life, with its end out of sight and mind, might diminish its worth, one might wonder whether we have already gone too far in increasing longevity. If so, one might further suggest that we should, if we could, roll back at least some of the increases made in the average human lifespan over the past century.

These remarks prompt some large questions: Is there an optimal human lifespan and an ideal contour of a human life? If so, does it resemble our historical lifespan (as framed and constrained by natural limits)?* Or does the optimal human lifespan lie in the future, to be achieved by some yet-to-be-developed life-extending technology? Whatever the answers to these intriguing and important questions, nothing in our inquiry ought to suggest that the present average lifespan is itself ideal…”


– A book reco: Flowers for Algernon


– And lastly a rant. Notice how a lot of SF stories and movies tend to be alarmist? There is a new invention which makes humans superhuman, or AI is developed to aid humans, or a new drug is discovered, or a paleontological species is recreated, or humans overcome odds to grow brains to travel across space. In the end, there is always a catch, and things go horribly wrong and threaten extinction, some calamitous catastrophe or at least a few shrieking kids later, a hitherto incompetent but large-hearted doofus saves everyone, or a flaw in the thingamacascafadr-that-is-hitherto-not-discovered-by-super-intelligences-but-the-reader/audience-can-get-in-one-cinematic-revelation brings the adversary to its suspiciously anthropomorphic knees. Sick.

Two quotes that I came across recently I liked:

“Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do it himself” — A. H. Weiler

“A good horse runs when it sees even the shadow of a whip” — The Buddha

… metacognition



Have you had a conversation with someone on a subject you did not quite know much about, or read a write-up on a subject on which you have limited expertise, and subsequently remarked “Now, that is deep”. Better even, have you asked someone for advice regarding something you did not know how to handle, and subsequently remarked “That is good advice”. I have, and recoiled at the metacognitive gaffe. (Subsequently, the occurrences of my these utterances have diminished.)

(In order to know that the wisdom is deep, your own wisdom of the subject matter must be deep. In order to know that the advice is good, you must have a way to judge good and bad solutions.)

I think perhaps, this is explainable as a matter of terminology:

– When one says “This is deep”, one doesn’t really mean that one can gauge the depth of the wisdom. One just means that the wisdom is/was sufficiently nontrivial, that one’s mind could imagine that the path to it must be hard.

– When one says “This is good advice”, one perhaps doesn’t really mean that one metacognitively examined the quality of the advice against other solutions and realized its superiority, but instead means

  • the solution given meets some desirability criteria (known a priori) that would be common to unknown solutions to the problem at hand.


  • the solution to the problem makes one feel emotionally good.

Or is this another thing to be expected of the status seeking missiles that are humans? i.e. upon encountering depth, or quality, humans want to signal themselves and others that they possess the metacognitive ability to evaluate it? Or is this just an ack, to make the other person feel better?


‘When the real demonstration came he had us walk on stage, and he hypnotized us in front of the whole Princeton Graduate College. This time the effect was stronger; I guess I had learned how to become hypnotized. The hypnotist made various demonstrations, having me do things that I couldn’t normally do, and at the end he said that after I came out of hypnosis,instead of returning to my seat directly, which was the natural way to go, I would walk all the way around the room and go to my seat from the back. All through the demonstration I was vaguely aware of what was going on, and cooperating with the things the hypnotist said, but this time I decided, “Damn it, enough is enough! I’m gonna go straight to my seat.” When it was time to get up and go off the stage, I started to walk straight to my seat. But then an annoying feeling came over me: I felt so uncomfortable that I couldn’t continue. I walked all the way around the hall.’

‘So I found hypnosis to be a very interesting experience. All the time you’re saying to yourself, “I could do that, but I won’t” — which is just another way of saying that you can’t.’

——- Richard Feynman, “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman”



‘I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix.’
——— Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” by A.C. Doyle.



Enter the I of the vortex