Saturday, January 28, 2017

The limits of biological designs

Allometry, biological constants, and theoretical limits to human IQ augmentation. .

Karlin tweeted - Are there any good articles making the case that IQ augmentation thru GWAS/CRISPR will be *harder* than Hsu/@razibkhan/@charlesmurray think?

That discussion thread mentions Kevin Mitchell's piece on mutation load (genetic load) as decreasing human intelligence from some ideal (Platonic form?) That is the first idea that came to my mind and it almost certainly plays some large role. But I'd like to suggest another way of looking at limits to IQ augmentation.

Allometry scaling is a way of getting at biological features that are constant across species by adjusting (typically) for body size. (Allometry seems to have some of the appeal in biology that physical constants do in physics.)

For flavor.
Sizing Up Allometric Scaling Theory (2008)
Wikipedia for general background,

Wikipedia mentions (quoting here)
West, Brown, and Enquist in 1997 derived a hydrodynamic theory to explain the universal fact that metabolic rate scales as the ¾ power with body weight. They also showed why lifespan scales as the +¼ power and heart rate as the -¼ power. Blood flow (+¾) and resistance (-¾) scale in the same way, leading to blood pressure being constant across species.[31]

The limit on total lifespan (i.e. maximum lifespan) of species being scaled to body weight suggests a limit across species on the evolutionary design of heart muscle (or cardiovascular systems.)
(Which by the way is why I find hummingbirds interesting, for if any species has broken the design barrier on hearts it is most likely them.)

It doesn't seem implausible to me that in the evolutionary design process of human brains those that are functioning at around 160 are already at or near the limit of maximum biological design, in the same way as heart muscle tissue -- Though with the difference being that humans are the solitary species that have reached such a hypothetical limit first. (I tend toward skepticism about the ability of current IQ test designs to meaningfully discriminate between IQ's in the highest ranges.)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Ottoman Millet System

My very quick and tentative take on millet system threads on Twitter. Caveats (see last part). 1820's. Royal court re-takes absolute power. Embarks on many expansionary wars. More territory, everything else (e.g. trade) worsens. Diminishing returns to millet system. Too many guns, not enough butter. Worsening resentment over time. Baki Tezcan might frame as a burgeoning proto-constitutional monarchy with strongly growing trade replaced by old system of royal absolutism and extractive militarism. I'd add that unlike the millet system trade can better help forge a national identity. The millet system 'national' identity was largely limited to religious, Sultan worship, and the military.  

(Caveats: I spent three months in Istanbul 1989-1990. Read Bezcan's book, more than once. Have read a lot of history over the years. No professional status as historian or directly related to topic at hand.) 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Too Many Chess Players

Too many chess players spoil the strategy.

December 13, 2016

It was a common thing at the club when I was young - to pit a chess master on one side of the board against many on the other. The many often included at least a couple of chess experts as well as A and B rated players. The intuition of most people is that it should be an even match, or that the many would have the advantage, but the master always won. With lots of eyes on the board the many would catch all the tactical shots often even better than the master. But the long run strategy was consistently inconsistent. First one of the many and then another would persuade the rest on following one course of strategy and then on a different course of strategy. So they lost. Too many chess players spoil the strategy.

It has become for me a broad metaphor that I see in many different forms. There are the political implications of course such as in international relations and in trying to explain why the US Presidency has over time become increasingly about foreign policy -- you need a consistent strategy for winning The Great Game.

Today I saw an article about an interview with Marc Andreessen in the Financial Times. He talks of how investing has become more risk-averse, comparing the declining returns over time to stocks in new tech companies. He talks of how there are many who can individually say no to going ahead with a technology investment idea. So naturally I think, 'too many chess players!' Each of those who can say no has a range of acceptable risk they are willing to allow. In order to put together enough funding to ensure an acceptable probability of success the innovator has to satisfy the most risk-averse of those who can say no. The end result is to end up funding only according to the most risk-averse of the many.

And what about the 'wisdom of the crowds'? There is a lot that has been written about that now, but I'm only making a minor comment in that direction. At it's simplest level and as originally conceived the wisdom of the crowds is about taking the average of the individual estimates of something like the weight of a steer at a farm festival contest. I think what happens in chess strategizing and in what Andreessen is describing is that what is being sampled is the most risk-averse of the crowd.

All metaphors are not exactly the thing they are being a metaphor for, so of course all metaphors break down, which is for me when they become even more interesting. Then it becomes about the skillful use of the metaphor as a tool best suited for particular tasks and the search for new metaphors can more effectively begin. If those who can say no in the tech-investing case were to be restricted in their communications with each other, and in effect only allowed to do a silent bidding auction of whether to invest or not, it would probably make the most risk-averse less likely to discuss and move more toward the center. But in the case of chess, .. well here it's probably best to imagine postal chess - an pre-internet form of extremely slow chess still occasionally practiced where people living in remote areas find suitable competition by engaging in play-by-mail one move per one postcard. If the many were to first send a separate round of postcards to each other on the overall strategy they thought best for the next three moves or so (control the center versus immediate flank attack for example) and then vote, that might actually improve the strategy.



The Great Game at Wikipedia (Central Asia) ..

Andreessen interview discussion nub, ..

Those who say no (The Knights who say Ni! Monty Python) ..

Friday, October 14, 2016

Obese Thoughts

The conflict over whether to cut sugar or cut fat may become more clear if we control for the patterns of eating that provide cues which in the environment of evolutionary adaptation reliably predicted famine.

Here is some of my current amateurish thinking on obesity. Largely this is just an expression of the idea of the thrifty gene but perhaps more in the context of adaptationist thinking. Someone has probably already said these things.

Organisms are adaptation executioners. Genes have been selected upon to respond to cues of information about the environment of whatever the current replication-vehicle host is and to express accordingly. Famine cues include the number and intensity of hypoglycemic events. If famine cues are sufficient, a famine adaptation response might be triggered. Once triggered it is likely active for the rest of that gene-host's lifespan. (Here skipping some possible one-generation carry forward epigenetics discussion here through plasms of eggs and sperms in the host body.) If the famine adaptation response is not activated and there are sufficient fat stores then in times of low blood sugar burn those stores. Alternatively, if the famine adaptation response is activated then in times of hunger lower the metabolism rate and increase food-seeking behaviors ('hunger', 'appetite'.) Note that ingested fat generally burns slowly allowing a steady supply of energy, and low fat diets allow for more and for greater sugar-carb roller-coaster hypoglycemic crashes. One way to test this idea might be to compare populations for the amount of consumption of non-fat and low-fat milk, and perhaps butter too, in terms of subsequent development of obesity.

(Does some quick searching ... )

Of course there's a long history on whether non-fat milk is good, but in any case --

This study looking at dairy consumption and obesity got a lot of publicity back around April of this year. .. Paywalled.

The Time magazine article that discusses it some: ..

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Bad Poetry

Decades ago while wandering the halls of a physics institute I saw a quote on door -
'Probably everything I say in this talk should be re-worded as a question'
(I think it was Niels Bohr.)


(The pseudo-quote is entirely from memory.. decades old memory.. from something glanced at while strolling. As I recall it was posted on a door at the new-ish KITP(?) institute on the top floor of the old physics building at UCSB.)

(A little earlier I was thinking - Probably almost everything I re-tweet or tweet on Twitter should be re-worded as a question.)

(Haven't posted to this blog in a very long time. This is, in part, a test.)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Alice Dreger talk tonight at nearby UNM campus

For those who have arrived early at the ISIR conference:

Alice Dreger, who will be also talking at ISIR, is giving a talk tonight (Thursday) at 8PM on the UNM campus about 1.25 miles from the conference hotel.

Announcement: ..

Map of the ABQ area: ..

Map of the UNM campus: ..

The location is room 116 in the Anthropology building, which is #16 along the left hand side of the main campus just east of University Boulevard
(and for many purposes also the building 15 immediately to the west.)

Parking is generally free after 8PM, but it's probably easiest to just catch a cab ride at the hotel.

For those looking for some exercise, walk east on Central and turn left (north) at University Boulevard. The first major street coming up on your left will be MLK Jr, and immediately east into the campus from there are the anthropology buildings.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Skillets (cooking)

Awhile back you asked me if there was a secret to cooking an omelet in an iron skillet. Yes. Bacon. The bacon and and the skillet are one. The best way of curing a skillet? Bacon. The best way of getting starches to not stick to the skillet? Bacon. Avoid bacon that's especially sugary. Uncured bacon seems to work even better, probably due to the absence of sugar. Sugar and starches seem to stick to the iron. 

Eggs aren't especially starchy (as far as I know) but have something that binds to iron to inhibit bacterial growth and skillets are made of -- iron. (The history of this idea of eggs and iron is long and changes a bit every few years or so. i.e. Don't trust the Wikipedia article on this too much.) 

Vegetable oils don't work nearly as well as bacon. I suspect it's because animal fat consists of short and medium chain fatty acids and vegetables are medium chain omega-sixes. Possibly the shorter fatty acid chains migrate into the spaces between the iron molecules of the skillet better. (And then there's the whole other thing about vegetable oils being inflammatory.) . 

Beef tallow (is that the right word?) doesn't work as well. Too many minuscule pieces of beef perhaps. (Made from taking the juice from the slow-cooker after cooking a roast and putting it in a jar in the fridge until the white-fatty layer forms at the top.)

(The preceding was modified from an email sent minutes earlier.)