Investing in Superstars, part 2

For the background to this post, start with part 1.  The follow up is here: part 3part 4.

In a subsequent post, I’ll talk about some lessons we’ve learned.  In the mean time, what questions would you have, either as a prospective investor or investee in the above scenario?…

What Poker Taught Me About Life

  1. “It depends…”
  2. There’s a difference between a good decision and a good outcome
  3. There’s a difference between being broke and having no money
  4. There’s a difference between a winning person and a winning player
  5. It’s all one long game
  6. The long run is longer than you think
  7. Inaction can be very risky behavior
  8. Embrace the beauty of uncertainty
  9. Objectivity is the only thing that’s impossible
  10. Whatever your “leak”, that’s what will get you in the end
  11. Luck and skill are two sides of the same coin
  12. Material wealth is a manifestation of interior wealth
  13. There’s time enough for counting… when the dealing’s done
  14. There’s no difference between value and values
  15. Your word is mightier than the law
  16. Win-win beats win-lose any day
  17. Trust everyone, and don’t count the cards

Is Science Broken?

By this I mean just what you think I mean.

Is science dysfunctional (i.e. functioning against its stated purpose) and could it be fixed?  I will leave it to you to determine what science’s stated purpose is, though by any standardly accepted definition, I claim that science is broken.  I’d like to run an experiment here to try to either change my belief or solidify it.

In the comments below, I invite you use the Like buttons to vote on what you believe.  You have only three boxes to choose from: Broken, Not Broken, and Undecided.  I respectfully ask you to first use the appropriate Like button and only then add your arguments/comments/questions if you have them.  Also, please categorize your arguments/comments/questions by making them replies to of one of the three top-level boxes (if you “think outside the boxes” I will delete your comment; sorry it’s my experiment :-)

In order to begin the debate, I will refer you to two blog entries which …

The AI-Box Experiment

Several years ago I became aware of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s “AI-Box Experiment” in which he plays the role of a transhuman “artificial intelligence” and attempts (via dialogue only) to convince a human “gatekeeper” to let him out of a box in which he is being contained (resumably so the AI doesn’t harm humanity).  Yudkowsky ran this experiment twice and both times he convinced the gatekeeper to let the AI out of the box, despite the fact that the gatekeeper swore up and down that there was no way to persuade him to do so.

I have to admit I think this is one of the most fascinating social experiments ever conceived, and I’m dying to play the game as gatekeeper.  The problem though that I realize after reading Yudkowsky’s writeup is that there are (at least) two preconditions which I don’t meet:

Currently, my policy is that I only run the test with people who are actually advocating that an AI Box be used …

What is the Meaning of Life?

I’m doing some research for an upcoming talk I’m giving and I’d appreciate hearing your honest answer in the comments below.…

End of The Gene

Exhibit A: Reductio Ad Absurdum

Exhibit B: Genetic Dark Matter

“A fruit fly study suggests the whole-genome approach may be the way to go.”

Exhibit C: The Genome vs The Gene

Exhibit D: The Proteome vs The Genome

“you need to look at the things that the genes are producing, and what’s happening after the genetics.”

The New Scientific Enlightenment

There is a massive paradigm shift occurring: beliefs about the nature of scientific inquiry that have held for hundreds of years are being questioned.

As laypeople, we see the symptoms all around us: climatology, economics, medicine, even fundamental physics; these domains (and more) have all become battlegrounds with mounting armies of Ph.D.s and Nobel Prize winners entrenching in opposing camps.  Here’s what’s at stake:

. . .

Scientific Objectivity

In 1972 Kahneman and Tversky launched the study into human cognitive bias, which later won Kahneman the Nobel.  Even a cursory reading of this now vast literature should make each and every logically-minded scientist very skeptical of their own work.

A few scientists do take bias seriously (c.f. Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong).  Yet, nearly 40 years later, it might be fair to say that its impact on science as a whole has been limited to improving clinical trials and spawning behavioral economics.

In 2008, Farhad Manjoo poignantly illustrates …

A New Cancer Mentality

This interview was done as part of the New Cancer Mentality initiative:

New Cancer Mentality is a grassroots organization focused on giving cancer patients a virual townhall to ask their questions to leading oncologists and researchers about their work. Furthermore, New Cancer Mentality focuses on bringing about collaboration between researchers as well as giving researchers an online forum to share their views and what needs to be done to cure this disease.

If you’d like to learn more or join the movement, check out blog and contact David.…

Biological Immortality

There’s a scientific paradox in the world of nutrition about what the optimal diet is.  A new theory may resolve the paradox.  Oh, and help you live forever too.

The majority consensus is the “post-agricultural revolution diet” is best, which says that a majority of your intake should be vegetables and fruits, and that you should severely limit your animal product intake, especially red meats.  Some proponents (like T. Colin Cambell of China Study fame) go as far as claiming that a strictly vegan diet is best.

The other camp argues for the “paleo” or “caveman” diet, which says we need to eat what our paleolithic ancestors ate: lots of foods high in animal fat and animal protein, and avoid industrialized grains altogether (some fermented natural grains are fine).  Fermented foods in general are encouraged, honoring the fact that before preservation, refrigeration and pasteurization we evolved a symbiosis with bacterias that are critical for our digestion and processing of nutrients.

Both sides agree that processed …

The Age of Radical Transparency

On Tuesday I went on Annie Duke’s internet TV show to talk with her and Jason Calacanis about Wikileaks and what the implications are for the future of privacy.  I made some radical claims:

  1. Privacy is dead: it’s only a matter of time now before we all have to face this eventuality.
  2. In a radically transparent society, personal willingness to share everything is a source of power/wealth; unwillingness is a personal liability.
  3. In a world with strong privacy rights, the exact opposite is true.
  4. We’re all better off in a radically transparent world than one with strong privacy rights; this is true whether you look at the individual, the corporation, or the sovereign nation.
  5. Worse than both extremes is where we are now, in transition, where some have privacy and others don’t.
  6. Those who insist on having privacy will have to pay an increasing price for it; and because of #5, this is a good thing.
  7. In the mean time, as the walls of privacy

Sunlight vs. Vitamin D

[This is part 3 of Epidemiology vs. Etiology]

You may have heard there is an epidemic of low vitamin D levels in the U.S.  An estimated 60% of Americans are at a level that has been correlated with increased risk of nearly all chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and depression.  My personal belief is that the epidemiology is horribly flawed.  But perhaps not in the way you might think….

As most people know by now, we humans photosynthesize vitamin D in our skin when it is exposed to direct sunlight.  How fast depends on our ethnicity and amount of exposure.  Since I’m light skinned and get a lot of sun in my normal life, it came as a huge surprise when some routine bloodwork I had done about 9 months ago indicated I was “dangerously low.”

My doctor immediately prescribed large doses of vitamin D supplement, but I was convinced that the result was spurious.  Perhaps it was due to …

“Freudian Value Semiotics”

Medicine 2.0

Kim Scheinberg sent me a great article from The Atlantic that relates to my multi-thread rant on epidemiology.  Since the article speaks for itself, I’m just quoting points I think are salient.  The only words below that are not a direct quote are the headlines (i.e. “Did you know?”).  The emphasis is mine as well.

Did you know?

  • mammograms, colonoscopies, and PSA tests are far less useful cancer-detection tools than we had been told
  • Zoloft, and Paxil were revealed to be no more effective than a placebo for most cases of depression
  • staying out of the sun entirely can actually increase cancer risks
  • taking fish oil, exercising, and doing puzzles doesn’t really help fend off Alzheimer’s disease

Medicine has caught a plague

we think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what we merely wish to be true, but in fact it’s easy to manipulate results, even unintentionally or unconsciously.

There is an

Epidemiology vs. Etiology

Over the last several years I’ve been digging into the science of cancer and systems biology, while at the same time looking at the epidemiology of disease and nutrition.  And the more I learn, the more I’m convinced that there’s a gap that our scientific tools and methodologies cannot account for.  While I’ve discussed this generally under the heading of Science 2.0 (also here), I’ve had a hard time putting into language the exact nature of the gap.

I’ve begun a series of posts that I hope will illustrate the gap, which I believe has to do with the fundamental difference between epidemiology (which is based on statistical observation) and etiology (which seeks to find causal mechanisms for observed phenomena):

Once I’ve completed these posts, I’ll attempt to explain the nature of the gap and what it means for the future of scientific inquiry.…

A1 vs. A2 Milk

Large scale epidemiological studies have linked casein (a cow’s milk protein) to autoimmune disease and heart disease (see The China Study).  I just ran across the following twist on this theme which purports to explain a mechanism: a genetic mutation many years ago in domesticated cows transformed the original, safe casein (“A2”) into a toxic form (“A1”).  Most cow’s milk available today has both.

What do people think of this?  Has anyone tried personally to ingest milk products that are exclusively A2?

Given the dubious connection between cholesterol and heart disease, could the bad rap on cheeses, cream and ice cream have more to do with A1 and sugar than the animal fat and cholesterol?…

The Apprentice: Jasmine Stine

I’d like to welcome Jasmine as my new Apprentice.  (You can learn more about her here and here).

I’d also like to thank everyone who threw their hat in the ring and expressed interest in “accelerating possibilities,” as well as those who offered words of endorsement for them.  Stay tuned for an open invitation to join a nascent community of like-minded accelerators.…

Will You Die From Cancer?

Use the arrows that appear if you hover over the bottom right of the Prezi.  You may want to expand to full screen first.

All feedback welcome.  If you like this, what subject would you like to see addressed next using Prezi?…

The Pattern

The wind was flapping a temple flag. Two monks were arguing about it. One said the flag was moving; the other said the wind was moving. Arguing back and forth they could come to no agreement.  The Sixth Patriarch said, “It is neither the wind nor the flag that is moving. It is your mind that is moving.” — Zen Koan

“The belief in an external world independent of the perceiving subject is the basis of all natural science.” — Albert Einstein

Does a whirlpool exist in the same way that a rock exists or that energy from the sun exists?  For something to exist it either has to have always existed, or there must have been a time prior to its existence.  Leaving for a moment the possibility that everything which exists today has always existed, let’s consider that it came into being at some point.

If something came into being, then not only must there have been a point in time prior to …

The Apprentice, Round 2

I have been overwhelmed by the quality of applicants for the apprenticeship!

In order to give both you and me a better idea of the fit (which is just as important as your personal skillz) I have five projects for you to complete.  To be true to the nature of the job — and so I can learn what I need to about you — I’m not going to provide any further instructions, parameters or clarifications beyond what you see here.

  1. Apply to attend TEDActive 2011 – if you get accepted and get the job with me, I will pay for you to attend.  I will also choose two additional applicants and pay $2000 towards their registration fee.  Email your acceptance letter ASAP to the mail link on
  2. Create a Prezi – my friends at unearthed the true story of the Statue of Liberty, which is not what the history books tell you.  Your task is to create a compelling presentation about

The Apprentice

I’m looking for a budding superstar to be my apprentice.  Someone who is eager to change the world but doesn’t exactly know how they are going to do it.  At first you will be my shadow, learning everything I know.  As soon as possible, you will take on the role of “COO” managing all of my projects.  Once you’ve proven capable, if you are passionate about one project, I’ll fund you to take it supernova, but not before you find your replacement.

Here’s the vision.  I’ve backed off of the communist stance, and I will pay you a salary.  But it will only be enough for you to live modestly for the time being.  The real value is in (a) being passionate about what you are doing with your life and (b) the potential to make a lot of money down the road.

If interested, write one paragraph in the comments below to convince me you are right for the job.  Instead of references,


What fundamental truths exist in the universe?

This question, perhaps above all, is the basis for scientific inquiry.  Yet we rarely ask it in this way and we rarely step back to the very basic assumptions we hold about the possible form of answer we might expect.  For instance, is matter fundamental?  Meaning, if we could not talk about particles and mass, could we understand the universe as well (or better) than we currently do?

Einstein showed that there is an equivalence between matter and energy (E=mc^2), but what does that really mean?  Personally, I’m kinda stumped when it comes to understanding energy, and I suspect that many other people are too if they think about it.  Then there’s that pesky c^2 part of the equation, which seems even more nebulous.  Physics 101 tells us that c is the velocity at which light (a form of energy) travels, and that any velocity squared is acceleration.  Also we learn that velocity is distance over time

The Safety Net

The following story is true, I’ve just changed the names and told it in parable form.  The material numbers and circumstances are roughly accurate, and Alice is a friend of mine who may tell the story herself on video here soon…

A True Story

Alice was feeling particularly poor at a certain time in her life and because of this she was under a lot of stress.  Her friend, Bob, was a billionaire many times over and he disliked seeing his friend in pain and so he wrote her a blank check and said, “Alice, whatever amount you cash this for, it will relieve me of the burden of figuring out what to do with it.  Will you do me the favor of accepting this gift?”  Alice was stunned because she knew she could have cashed the check for $30 Million and Bob would not have missed it at all.  And she knew Bob was sincere in what he was saying.

Alice was overwhelmed with …


Daniel asks, Does the Mind Influence Physical Processes?

Proof: our mind sets out to modify our environment in particular ways (i.e. set goals); then we act in ways consistent with that intention; more often than chance, our environment changes in those intended ways (i.e. goals are achieved).

This is a form of entanglement — spooky action at a distance — between our minds and the environment (which includes other minds), but we usually dismiss this as trivial, not very spooky. On the other hand, we know that quantum entanglement exists and it seems spooky to us because we have no mechanism to explain it.

We also observe that there are quantum effects in the basic architecture of the brain (nanotubules) and wonder if these are somehow the “ghost in the machine” of consciousness. But this could be just a red herring. Perhaps quantum effects matter to consciousness, perhaps they don’t. Still quantum effects are part of the human experience in some sense — and so …

Towards an Economy of Abundance

In A World of Goodies, I tried to explore the implications of creating a currency based not upon scarcity but on abundance.  The concepts in that piece were only half-baked and I’d like to bake them a bit more here.  I’m hoping you will help.

The first task is to make the sharp distinction between the economics of scarcity and the economics of abundance.  Books could be written on the topic, but I’ll sketch what I mean and hope you get the basic idea.  All economic theories you are likely to have heard of are based on the assumption that we live in a world of scarce resources.  Commodities markets allocate those resources based on price equilibrium, but in the end the market does not actually create any new value.  The supply of oil in the world, for instance, is already set, and it’s limited.  As we approach that limit it becomes scarce, and the price (i.e. marginal value) goes up.  More fundamentally, with …

Project Runway

I meet a lot of social entrepreneurs who are just starting out and have the following dilemma.  They are full of energy and creativity, but they don’t have a single tangible project or venture yet that they feel they can commit to.  What they need is the time and freedom to explore the possibilities, brainstorm with a community that believes in them, talk to everyone they can, and get practical experience working on cool projects that their friends are doing, without needing to draw a salary.  What they is need some runway… the modern day equivalent of backpacking around Europe or joining the Peace Corps.

Here’s a quote from Kickstarter, one of my favorite platforms for accelerating possibilities:

Kickstarter is focused on creative ideas and ambitious endeavors. We’re a great way for artists, filmmakers, musicians, designers, writers, athletes, adventurers, illustrators, explorers, curators, promoters, performers, and others to bring their projects, events, and dreams to life.

Wouldn’t it be great if the creative …