Friday, October 20, 2006

Thinking about Thinking

It is still undecided whether our mind is simply a machine. Quantum mechanics allows for indeterminism, hence physics may allow our minds to break deterministic behavior, if quantum effects are visible at the scale of our brains. Yet to say that our minds follow no patterns is incorrect, for our thinking and behavior does follow certain patterns.

If both the thought and behavior of our ancestors did not follow any pattern then survival becomes difficult hence, one could argue that evolutionary pressures select for thought and behavior that follows certain patterns. In fact, interactions between animals, to a certain extent, depend upon the predictability of behavior and in the case of humans thought as well. Since evolutionary pressures at human scale are highly deterministic, one could argue that certain algorithms loosely govern these patterns, it is these algorithms or patterns we want to emulate.

Personally, I believe that the origin of consciousness is an emergent structure of a complex dynamical system, namely our brain. This would explain why both our behavior and thought follow certain patterns, yet allows us to break old patterns. What makes our dynamical system special is that our system is in constant rapport with an external system namely, whatever is outside of us. As such it is constantly being perturbed to follow certain paths as not determined by itself yet, depending on the state of our internal system the way we follow the path and for how long is not predictable. We can never perfectly emulate another system because we do not have perfect information about that other system and its surroundings yet, we can emulate the system with more and more accuracy given more information we gain about that system, and its surroundings.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Physics was considered before Aristotle, but it was deemed impossible since Parmendies notion of the entity was immovable. What Aristotle did do is show that motion is possible thereby making physics a possible science. Though Aristotle was wrong as to the principles of motion, he made it possible to study physics as a true science.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Stephen Jay Gould

Lets consider a passage from Stephen Jay Gould:

Q: In your book you examine the inability of baseball players to hit .400 anymore and argue that it's because hitting has improved.

A: The overall batting average has been about .260 throughout the history of baseball. But the variation around that average has shrunk. It's at least plausible that variation declines because play improves. A batting average is a comparison between hitting and pitching. So if everybody's improving, as long as they improve at the same rate, the batting average will remain constant. But it gets to the point where everyone is so good that there's just not much variation anymore. Hitting .400 in baseball is a good example because there's a "right wall," if you will, of human limits. Given how our muscles work, there's just so much that the human body can do. There will always be a few individuals who, by dint of genetic gifts and obsessive commitment and training, will stand close to that right wall. That's where Ty Cobb was in 1911 and where Tony Gwynn is today. But there is this limiting wall. What has happened in baseball is that all aspects of play have improved enormously. Back in 1911, average play was so far inferior to where Ty Cobb was that his batting average could be measured as .420. Today, Tony Gwynn is just as good, maybe even closer to the wall than Cobb was. But the average player has improved so much that Gwynn's performance -- equal to or better than Cobb's -- is not measured as high.

We can see that innate ability played a much larger role in baseball's past because the difference between the gifted player and the average player was so great but, since training techniques have improved as has our baseball farm system, the ability of the average player rivals the ability of the player with innate ability.

This is analogous to what I saw occurring in the sciences the only problem is what constitutes training techniques for the mind? This is not to say there are no gifted people for there are people who have an innate ability to work in certain fields but, what I am saying is that just like sports we can improve our ability to perform in a certain fields with proper training. This has been given empirical backing in the August 2006 issue of Scientific American:

Scientific American

This also does not imply we should not encourage gifted children to develop their abilities, for just as in sports children with innate abilities should be encouraged throughout their lives to reach their maximum potential. People also have to realize that gifted children do not necessarily become gifted adults, because by the time they reach adulthood many of their "average" cohorts have also improved their abilities. One only need look at the New York Times Article:

Prodigy Puzzle

The problem is that groundbreaking ideas don't occur in a vacuum, what good is it for Barry Bonds to hit a homerun (with no one on base) if the Giants are down by 5, for all his innate talent you need the entire team to perform to win a game. I believe the same thing occurs in science, much of the time ideas that advance a field dramatically are the culmination of years of research, and without that research groundbreaking ideas are not possible.

Newton's laws of motion were possible only after Descartes proclaimed only material causes may affect material objects. In fact the entire idea of Physics as a separate science was only made possible after Aristotle defined its boundaries. Calculus was made possible only after both geometry and algebra were well established. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity could only be rigorously formulated after Tensor Calculus was developed, which by necessity required Newton's or Leibniz's formulation of Calculus. Without the prior developments, Newton or Einstein would have to develop the entire background knowledge necessary before they could even think of formulating their ideas correctly.

Besides background knowledge one also needs the "right" ideas, this is where individual creativity and thought comes in. If one reads the above article "Prodigy Puzzle" one finds that neither William Shockley or Luis Alvarez were deemed prodigies yet both won Nobel prizes, while none of the Termite protege's won a Nobel. This goes to show that sheer intelligence does not a Nobel Laureate make, one needs ideas, especially the "right" ideas.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Nobel Prizes

I would like add that my previous comment was not intended to detract from Mr. Kornberg's spectacular achievement. That is a once in several lifetimes achievement, and any elite scientist could only wish to one day achieve as did Mr. Kornberg. All I was saying is that his achievement isn't due entirely to his genes.

Kudos Mr. Kornberg

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Nobel Prizes and Genes

Looking at the recent spate of Nobel prizes one can see a father who won a Nobel and a son who won a Nobel. The Son Roger Kornberg won the Nobel for Chemistry and his father Arthur Kornberg won the Nobel for Medicine.

Many may say that this shows the powerful influence of genes in science but, if you look deeper you will see that there are many other factors at work.

One is subjectivity, how exactly does one judge which accomplishments warrant a Nobel prize? There are so many fields in one discipline and so many achievements how do you know which one achievement is the most important?

Besides the subjective factor, we are missing one other obvious factor, many of the Nobel families did work in related fields.

Check it out at the Nobel prize website (scroll all the way down):

Family Nobel Laureates

Its interesting how nearly all of the families who share nobel prizes are for the same if not related fields. One reason is because a parent at the cutting edge of a field is in a good position to guide the education of their child from an early age. Not to mention that if the child decides to follow a similar path, the parent will know exactly how to guide the child's research. Doing cutting edge research isn't simply solving problems in a field, rather it is solving the right problems in a field. The key thing is what are the right problems? Since the parent was and probably still is at the cutting edge of the field he/she will know which problems or directions are crucial for that field. Combine this with the fact that from an early age the child was guided with expertise in that field, he/she's got a good chance to solve the right problem.

My old adage also applies, how is it that out of all the brilliant researchers only a select few receive the Nobel? Are they the most brilliant researchers, smarter than everyone else in their field? What about all of the other brilliant researchers who have unfortunately not asked the right questions, or have worked on a theory that turned out to be false, or what if your achievement was not deemed worthy of a Nobel? The very fact that most brilliant researchers don't win Nobel prizes goes to show that sheer brilliance doesn't guarantee success, you need ideas and luck.