Recommended Reading 20th July

Adorable Ducklings Have Abstract Thoughts
John Locke thought that humans were unique in their ability to abstract meta-level concepts from object-level examples. The observation that ducklings can do just this (often better than human children) suggests Locke was wrong. Ducklings were able to recognise the relatedness of different objects: when shown two similar objects they abstracted the concept of “sameness” and when shown two different objects they abstracted that difference. These experiments may suggest that abstraction is not as essential for higher intelligence as previously thought.

Who blames the victim? 
People who value loyalty, obedience and purity are more likely to engage in victim-blaming than people who prioritise care and fairness. People who have read Haidt’s ‘The Righteous Mind’ will recognise that these groups correspond to conservatives and liberals respectively. Intriguingly the authors also found that focusing people’s attention on the perpetrator of a crime is actually more effective at reducing the subject’s tendency to victim-blame than focusing their attention on the victim.

The GOP’s Original Sin
Paul Krugman suggests that the adoption of supply-side policies in 1980 is what catalysed the GOP’s move to the so-called “post-truth” phase. I don’t really understand economics and I know Krugman is pretty partisan so his claim that supply-side economics never had any academic support might not be 100% true but at the same time, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if it was true.

New AI can predict when two people will kiss
Discussion of a deep learning algorithm that watches a lot of TV shows to figure out how likely a “lean-in” is to lead to a kiss. The headline probably overstates it (the AI only gets it right 43% of the time) but humans were only 71% successful so it’s a good start. Further evidence that there’s nothing special about humans “emotional intuitions”.

Reading recommendations 10th July 2016

  1. Tyler Cowen on ‘Why Brexit happened and what it means
    Like myself, Cowen was pro-Remain. However I saw several people on the Leave side praising Cowen’s articulation of their beliefs and saying that it passed the Ideological Turing Test.
  2. The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and All Your Most Cherished Beliefs
    The Pathogen Stress Theory of Values suggests that our reactions to germs can explain many puzzles of human social behaviour including morality, politics and religion.
  3. The Man Who Tried to Redeem the World with Logic
    This is the sad tale of the life of scientist and mathematician Walter Pitts. When he’s described as being the undoubted genius of a group containing John von freaking Neumann then you know he was something special. 

    “That winter, Wiener brought Pitts to a conference he organized in Princeton with the mathematician and physicist John von Neumann, who was equally impressed with Pitts’ mind. Thus formed the beginnings of the group who would become known as the cyberneticians, with Wiener, Pitts, McCulloch, Lettvin, and von Neumann its core. And among this rarified group, the formerly homeless runaway stood out. “None of us would think of publishing a paper without his corrections and approval,” McCulloch wrote. “[Pitts] was in no uncertain terms the genius of our group,” said Lettvin”.

Assorted Links

I read Richard Feynman’s Six Easy Pieces when I was pretty young but it wasn’t until I read Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman! that I really started to idolize him. Bill Gates also idolizes the great physicist, calling him the best teacher he never had. I’d also recommend this beautiful video featuring Feynman’s Ode to a Flower.

Siderea writes a really interesting history on how it was decided to stop defining homosexuality as a disorder.

I recently discovered the EconTalk podcast series. I really enjoyed the interview with Nick Bostrom about superintelligent machines as the host does a good job of challenging him. That doesn’t always happen, possibly because Bostrom is so smart!

Marginal Revolution posted a really thought provoking question during the week: What book that you have NOT read has most influenced and shaped your life?  

And finally, this is how to do relationship advice.