Friday, May 31, 2013

31/5/2013: Bank Holidays Links: On Art, Science and In Praise of Unfocused Thoughts

For the bank holiday - an alternative (to economics) reading list of things artsy & scientific…

A quick note before I launch into the links: I will be taking part in on June 13th. [] article on a fascinating project to build a computer to replicate human brain "down to the individual ion channel". The newsy bit here is that on January 28, 2013, the EU Commission awarded the lead research group (headed by Henry Markram) EUR 1 billion to attempt to perform that task. There is much of interest here - beside the fascinating technology behind. Here are some questions that puzzle myself and many others:

  1. As article points out, the task is multi-dimensional: it is one thing to build a replica of neurons and physical interfaces. It is yet an entirely different thing to build a replica of consciousness. "The way Markram sees it, technology has finally caught up with the dream of AI: Computers are finally growing sophisticated enough to tackle the massive data problem that is the human brain. But not everyone is so optimistic. “There are too many things we don’t yet know,” says Caltech professor Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at one of neuroscience’s biggest data producers, the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. “The roundworm has exactly 302 neurons, and we still have no frigging idea how this animal works.”"
  2. Is the EU Commission engaging in an absurd gamble with taxpayers money is another, perhaps mundane question, but the one that arises on foot of (1). 
  3. Bigger question of the two above - can consciousness be reproduced? Is consciousness even a logical system system?

ArsTechnica piece on the role of focus (singularity of objective) in raising IQ [] might be leading to an interesting set of questions - possibly even related to the previous link. If focusing on a task help raise our IQ, then:

  1. How meaningful is IQ as a measure of human capacity to think vs to create? After all, focus can also be seen as concentrating attention on a singular subject or even an aspect of a subject. In doing so, we forego the breadth of inquiry for the depth of inquiry. If IQ is positively and strongly correlated with the depth (focus), is it not then negatively correlated with the breadth? 
  2. Is IQ a tool/source of incremental uncovering of knowledge as opposed to revolutionary discoveries? Again, focus can be helpful in the former, but it can also be detrimental to the latter.
  3. In modern academia and even art, specialism is the core driver of publications and output, and the latter are the core drivers of earnings, promotion, access to research and creative funding etc. Does this focus --> IQ --> incremental productivity nexus lead to a dramatic reduction in encyclopaedic inquiry? We are having more and more specialist researchers and fewer and fewer Leonardo's and the reason for this might not be the difficulty of engaging in encyclopaedic inquiry, but a disincentive to engage in it contained in the added capacity for pursuing the IQ-based forms of incremental inquiry that also tend to generate higher career payoffs?

As you can see, I am not attempting to exert too much focus here… perhaps because I don't really care if I do sound like a Mensa member…

And here's a link to show that focus --> IQ link might be complete rubbish: Now, the article quotes: "The first generation immigrant parent brings with her/him a set of memories about how education works and what is to be valued. For Indians that is a memory of endless class tests doled out on a regular basis to evaluate our ability to retrieve information - spellings of words, names of world capitals, cash crops of states, length of rivers, height of mountains, and a plethora of minutiae charmingly labeled as General Knowledge." ... Err… so Indian-Americans are more focused on the task of spelling stuff. Great. I am looking forward to them starting to focus on content of what they are spelling more… which, automatically means they will have to stop focusing and start thinking much broader. Great art and science are not made out of 'focus' - they are made out of wandering.

Now onto art - let's start with kitsch, but brilliant efforts of the Northern Irish and British authorities at creating a Potemkin Village out of Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh in the anticipation of the G8 summit later this month: Here's an image from the Irish Times of a comer butcher's shop in town now transformed into a window-display of fake prosperity.

I class this 'art' because to really describe the nature of what is happening in this instance one would need volumes of unpleasant explicatives... let's keep things academic, instead.

Onto serious art: Biennale is on in Venice and I am going to keep linking to it. One of the most memorable things I did so far in my own life was to take part in 2006 Beinnale by writing an essay for irish entry volume.

The main link to this year's Biennale is here: and a couple of images / stills from there:

Those heading for Venice for Biennale - do not miss great venue for art in Friuli.

On art, @Saatchi_Gallery twitter account was posting some stunning images this week.

One worth checking out is and this comes via PetaPixel article:

Another one is from Art Basel Hong Kong show:

This is the first and probably the last VW, that I would love to own… Artist's work is discussed here: and Art Basel page for the artist:

A quick synopsis of some of the best works at Art basel this year is here:  One of my other favourites is:

Bruegelesque (as in Peter Bruegel's Seven Deadly Sins etching)…

Cool tech thinking from the 1970s? Sure: And it proves, in passim, that much of the cutting-edge-new is really a well-forgotten-old…

Tripping spirituality meets art and collides with nature? Only in NYC, but stunningly so:

From things brilliant to brilliant narrative. Here's a superb blogpost on the nature of the value of expressed beliefs:  This treats beliefs in the context of revealed preferences - many analysts and now even journalists make the argument that to reveal true underlying motives for a judgement, one has to have "a skin in the game". I myself was on a receiving end recently from a business editor of one of the major newspapers. When I queried if an interview with investor in one of the banks was fully open and transparent in his/her praise for the bank in a totally uncritical interview with the investor published by his newspaper, the editor simply accused me of not having "a skin in the game" and thus not having a valid point of view to offer. Idiotic? You betcha: anyone's starting position for a conjecture has nothing to do with validity of the conjecture or with testability of this validity. Double idiotic because as a taxpayer and a bank customer, I do have probably more "skin in the game" than the said investor. Nonetheless, the entire incident reminds me that people often think that someone placing a bet (say going long VIX) is equivalent to them revealing their true belief (that for example volatility will rise in the future). Actually, it is not. And the blogpost linked above explains why. It is all really basic, but we too often forget that basic things are the first ones to be forgotten by us…

Lastly, here's an excellent article (based on a very interesting paper) that argues that sustainability of 'local' food sources might be severely over-exaggerated: Now, one additional point is that we are talking here about UK (heavily subsidised) agriculture vs New Zealand (zero subsidies regime). Should the balance of carbon required to produce subsidies be entered into the equation? I doubt anyone would then be 'ethically' buying much of anything local… The original paper referenced in the article is here:

So enjoy the long weekend!


A.K.A. Damo Mackerel said...

Are human Being's becoming redundant?

Robert Browne said...

Forget about this vaunted project of modelling the brain. Take a single cell in the brain. The analogy has been used by scientists of computers and software to explain what happens inside a cell. There are thousands if not millions of interacting computers that communicate, read and transfer data the cell has many different computer languages and many different operating systems. Bill Gates has said that the code of life is infinitely much more intricate than anything they have ever accomplished. So good luck with modelling the human brain a structure that is possible according to Eric Fromm one of the most complex, if not the most complex structures in the entire universe and this is going to be done for a few billion? Good luck with the Fred Flintstone model they will create.