February, 2009

Complexity Economics

In Chasing the Dragon, I wondered aloud whether we could dampen boom-bust cycles in the financial system with an economic equivalent of a controlled burn.  Kevin suggested that “generic countercyclical policies” might work.  Underlying both mine and Kevin’s thinking is the idea that you can possibly do better (for the world as a whole) by (a) understanding the entire economic system better and (b) enacting policies which are in line with that understanding.  In contrast to these assumptions are a point of view articulated by one of the readers on a different thread:…

Crohn's Disease

Debbie Maier asks us on the Upcoming Topics page to address Crohn’s Disease.

I don’t know too much about it except that it’s an autoimmune disease and has a complex, multi-causal etiology and pathology.  In my reading on autoimmune diseases in general there seems to be a direct link between latitude an incidence.   Specifically, the farther from the equator you live the more likely you are to get Crohn’s, Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and so on.…

Individual vs. Systemic Causation

George Lakoff wrote an interesting piece on FiveThirtyEight.com yesterday called The Obama Code.  I will focus on one of the sections in particular because it articulates something I’ve suspected for a while, but I’ve never heard anyone else give credence to the notion.  Which is that one of the fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives in the U.S. is that conservatives give more weight to individual, autonomous actors and actions in their view of how the world works, and liberals tend to give more weight to systemic causation and interdependency:…

Chasing the Dragon

Kevin just posted about a great article by Felix Salmon in Wired.  I underlined three quotes in my reading of it:

  1. “Correlation trading has spread through the psyche of the financial markets like a highly infectious thought virus.” (Tavakoli)
  2. “…the real danger was created not because any given trader adopted it but because every trader did. In financial markets, everybody doing the same thing is the classic recipe for a bubble and inevitable bust.” (Salmon)
  3. “Co-association between securities is not measurable using correlation…. Anything that relies on correlation is charlatanism.” (Taleb)

Twitter vs. Psychoanalysis

In this Times Online article, two psychologists and an author weigh in with their view of Twitter users as narcissistic and infantile:

The clinical psychologist Oliver James has his reservations. “Twittering stems from a lack of identity. It’s a constant update of who you are, what you are, where you are. Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity.”

“We are the most narcissistic age ever,” agrees Dr David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist and director of research based at the University of Sussex. “Using Twitter suggests a level of insecurity whereby, unless people recognise you, you cease to exist. It may stave off insecurity in the short term, but it won’t cure it.”

For Alain de Botton, author of Status Anxiety and the forthcoming The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Twitter represents “a way of making sure you are permanently connected to somebody and somebody is permanently connected to you, proving that you are alive. It’s like when a parent goes

Health and Fitness Q&A with Kevin

Whenever I have a question about health matters that is too complex for an MD or academic researcher to get right, I ask Kevin.  Nobody I know has a better combination of broad-based current knowledge of the primary literature, plus a whole-system view and understanding of compex dynamics, plus the practical will and experience in living by (and updating) his conclusions.

Here are some questions I had for Kevin recently and his answers.

Rafe: Do the BPA results (such as they are) cause you concern?  Do you still use your Nalgene bottle?  Would you let your infant or child drink from a plastic bottle or sippy-cup?…

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

Has anyone read the entire text of the stimulus package?

The ambiguity of this question is intentional.

My Favorite TED Talks of 2009

My other favorites were these:

  • Tim Berners-Lee
  • Bonnie Bassler
  • Rosamund Zander
  • Willie Smits
  • Dan Ariely
  • Liz Coleman

I’ll post their talks when they come out, but you can check them out from the program guide in the mean time.

What were your favorites?…

What is the Best Idea Ever?

Daniel Dennett and others have called Darwin’s theory of evolution the best idea anyone has ever had.  That means that all the ideas that Socrates, Da Vinci, Newton and Einstein ever had, plus all the ideas that everyone else has ever had are also rans.  It would be impossible to really justify such a claim objectively, but I will give my guess as to why it might be considered so, at least by luminaries in Western society.

My suggestion is that evolution is the first theory — in the scientific tradition — based on the principle of emergence.  That is, it looks at a system from the bottom up, starting with behavior at the micro level and yielding behavior at the macro level.

Regardless of the above, what gets your vote for the best idea ever?…

Thought of the Day

We talk about how we are all one, more similar than we are different.  And of course it’s true, but…

Our lives are so different.  And the gap is widening all the time.  The diversity of experience increases, as the world becomes more complex, as we create new ways of existing, physically, mentally, socially, virtually.

This is part of the paradox of “progress” and the global network effect; the possibility for common understanding increases, yet the difficulty of such a feat does too, as we branch farther and wider from our common experience.…

Teaching Metacognition to 7th Graders

Gary Marcus says he’d like for there to be a course on metacognition for kids:

Call it “The Human Mind: A User’s Guide,” aimed at, say, seventh-graders.  Instead of emphasizing facts, I’d expose students to the architecture of the mind, what it does well, and what it doesn’t.  And most important, how to cope with its limitations, to consider evidence in a more balanced way, to be sensitive to biases in our reasoning, to make choices in ways that better suit our long-term goals.

What a brilliant and practical idea.

Anyone want to take a stab at a syllabus?…