Planet Rationalist

July 01, 2016


Expanding our view: Science and technology and unimagined possibilities!

Okay, this is going to be one of those spills of one cool (r amazing or scary) thing after another!

Hubble finds universe is expanding 9% faster than expected! Astronomers keep refining their measurements of Cepheid variable stars and type 1a supernovae, resulting in the best-yet determinations of the age of the universe and the Hubble Constant showing how fast the whole shebang is expanding. And now, in addition to Dark Energy and Dark Matter there is talk of Dark Radiation.  Wowzer.  The more you know….

Updating the Periodic Table: Nihonium (Nh), moscovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts) and oganesson (Og) are the newest elements - atomic numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118 - on the Periodic Table to receive names.  The first three are named for where they were discovered. The last for professor Yuri Oganessian, a pioneer with achievements including the discovery of superheavy elements.  

Looking ahead.... In his latest book, The Inevitable: Understanding the Twelve Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, tech guru Kevin Kelly provides an optimistic road map for our near future ...

by David Brin at Fri, 01 Jul 2016 03:10 Instapaperify

Fallacy Files

The Gang of Four Puzzle

The notorious gangster Victor Timm has been murdered. From the crime scene evidence, the police have determined that there was only one shooter. In addition, they have established that only four suspects had the means, motive, and opportunity to kill Timm: members of a rival gang known as the Gang of Four. Each of these suspects was brought in for questioning, and each made only two statements before lawyering up. Here are those statements....

Fri, 01 Jul 2016 01:00 Instapaperify

June 30, 2016


You're More Likely to Remember Something If You Exercise a Few Hours Later

Exercise has long been thought to have memory boosting capabilities , but a new study suggests that delayed physical activity might be the best way to take advantage of those perks.


by Patrick Allan at Thu, 30 Jun 2016 23:00 Instapaperify

Overcoming Bias

Once More, With Feeling

Sean Carroll’s new best-selling book The Big Picture runs the risk of preaching to the choir. To my mind, it gives a clear and effective explanation of the usual top physicists’ world view. On religion, mysticism, free will, consciousness, meaning, morality, etc. (The usual view, but an unusually readable, articulate, and careful explanation.) I don’t disagree, but then I’m very centered in this physicist view.

I read through dozens of reviews, and none of them even tried to argue against his core views! Yet I have many economist colleagues who often give me grief for presuming this usual view. And I’m pretty sure the publication of this book (or of previous similar books) won’t change their minds. Which is a sad commentary on our intellectual conversation; we mostly see different points of view marketed separately, with little conversation between proponents.

Carroll inspires me to try to make one point I think worth making, even if it is also ignored. My target is people who think philosophical zombies make sense. Zombies ...

by Robin Hanson at Thu, 30 Jun 2016 20:30 Instapaperify

rationalist filter - Stack Exchange

Importance of interactivity in learning –

Not sure if this is the right place for this question that I find hard to formulate in the first place... In a paper, I'd like to argue that interactivity helps to develop an understanding of a ...

by Stefan at Thu, 30 Jun 2016 19:32 Instapaperify


rationalist filter - Stack Exchange

Does suppressing a desire make it more powerful? –

Based on my minimal knowledge of old Freudian Psychoanalysis, if our drives and urges are not met they become more powerful, even overwhelming, for the individual, perhaps causing them psychological ...

by syntonicC at Thu, 30 Jun 2016 16:34 Instapaperify

Overcoming Bias

Against Prestige

My life has been, in part, a series of crusades. First I just wanted to understand as much as possible. Then I focused on big problems, wondering how to fix them. Digging deeper I was persuaded by economists: our key problems are institutional. Yes we can have lamentable preferences and cultures. But it is hard to find places to stand and levers to push to move these much, or even to understand the effects of changes. Institutions, in contrast, have specific details we can change, and economics can say which changes would help.

I learned that the world shows little interest in the institutional changes economists recommend, apparently because they just don’t believe us. So I focused on an uber institutional problem: what institutions can we use to decide together what to believe? A general solution to this problem might get us to believe economists, which could get us to adopt all the other economics solutions. Or to believe whomever happens to be right, when economists are wrong. I sought one ring to rule ...

by Robin Hanson at Thu, 30 Jun 2016 16:20 Instapaperify


Ryan Carson: Begin With the End in Mind

About this presentation

When your week is over, why do you so often feel like you’ve put in the hours and still didn’t accomplish everything you set out to achieve? In this 99U talk, Ryan Carson, founder and CEO of Treehouse, charges us to hyper-focus, so we can spend less time working and still finish our biggest projects. “I spend 20 minutes first thing each Monday making a list of what I want to achieve each week,” explains Carson, who typically works 32 hours a week so he can devote more time to his family. “Then I take out the things that aren’t happening.” Carson’s approach allows him to devote his time to what he really needs to accomplish over the next four days. “My initial reaction was that there was too much work to do,” he said of shrinking his workweek. “But there is no rule that you have to work 40 hours a week to be successful.”

About Ryan Carson

Carson is the CEO and Co-Founder of Treehouse, an ...

by The 99U Team at Thu, 30 Jun 2016 15:36 Instapaperify

rationalist filter - Stack Exchange

How to teach programming mindset in one hour? –

I have to organize a 1 hour workshop to let smart people (but not necessarily engineers) understand the basic concept and aspects of what programming is. The audience is a group of 15 start uppers, ...

by Vincent at Thu, 30 Jun 2016 15:19 Instapaperify

NeuroLogica Blog

Mummies and Cancer

egyptian-mummy-3Often there are several layers to my skeptical articles – there is the science story itself, and then there is the reporting of the science and the underlying neuropsychological factors that led to the disconnect between the two.

Here we have another classic example, surrounding the claim that cancer (and sometimes extended to other “modern” diseases) were rare in pre-industrial societies based on evidence from mummies.

The Narrative

The psychological and media story here is that people tend to organize their knowledge around thematic narratives (which I am doing right here – so meta). We like stories, especially stories that have meaning, and especially when that meaning is emotionally satisfying or surprising in some way.

The media knows this, and so their business model is to cater to the narrative biases of their customers. Social media has accelerated and magnified this phenomenon as compelling narratives survive and thrive, earning likes and shares. Further, the web has been a great equalizer – outdated stories from obscure tabloids will get shared along with recent articles from established and respected outlets ...

by Steven Novella at Thu, 30 Jun 2016 12:12 Instapaperify

Neurophilosophy | The Guardian

Barack Obama Blindness: Failing to see the unexpected

New research demonstrates an extreme form of inattentional blindness in which we fail to see the unexpected

There’s much more to visual perception than meets the eye. What we see is not merely a matter of patterns of light falling on the retina, but rather is heavily influenced by so-called ‘top-down’ brain mechanisms, which can alter the visual information, and other types of sensory information, that enters the brain before it even reaches our conscious awareness.

Related: Memory contaminates perception | Mo Costandi

Related: Language boosts invisible objects into visual awareness | Mo Costandi

Continue reading...

by Mo Costandi at Thu, 30 Jun 2016 11:30 Instapaperify

You Are Not So Smart

YANSS 079 – Separate Spheres

Common sense used to dictate that men and women should only come together for breakfast and dinner.

According to Victorian historian Kaythrn Hughes, people in the early 19th Century thought the outside world was dangerous and unclean and morally dubious and thus no place for a virtuous, fragile woman. The home was a paradise, a place for civility, where perfect angelic ladies could, in her words, “counterbalance the moral taint of the public sphere.” If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, you get the idea. Women learned to play music and read poetry, while men went out into the world and got their hands dirty.

By the mid 1800s, women were leaving home to work in factories, and they were fighting for their right to vote and to get formal educations and much more – and if you believed in preserving the separate spheres, the concept that men and women should only cross paths at breakfast and dinner, then as we approached the 20th century, this created a lot of anxiety for you.

Despite their relative ...

by David McRaney at Thu, 30 Jun 2016 00:09 Instapaperify

June 29, 2016


Scott H Young

The Problem with Advice

If you want to eat healthy, you need to have a balance between eating too much and too little. If you want to be responsible with money, you need to balance between saving enough to enjoy your future and spending enough to meet your needs today. Not too much, not too little.

Most problems in life come down to calibrating between extremes like these. Calibration has two challenges. First you need to figure out in which direction you’re unbalanced—are you spending too much or too little? Too aggressive or too passive? Overdoing it or underdoing it? Second, you need to figure out how to rebalance yourself.

Calibration is harder than maximizing. If you don’t need to balance, and moving in one direction is always better, then you can marshall all your efforts into solving the second challenge. When a problem involves calibration, however, you always need to keep an eye on whether you’ve slipped too far to the other side.

Calibrating Advice

The problem with advice is that most of the ...

by Scott Young at Wed, 29 Jun 2016 18:10 Instapaperify

The Memrise Blog

The language of Euro 2016

   In the spirit of the Football Tournament that has taken over Europe, Richard, this month’s guest blogger, thought it relevant to take a look at the football language of each remaining team in the race, apart from one, who can guess which one?

Europe. When you think about it, it’s great isn’t it? All those languages and cultures bouncing off one another, interacting and intertwining in such a small space. What’s not to like?

So Euro 2016 is a particular treat, throwing up all kinds of interesting vocab, sayings and cultural tidbits for the discerning viewer.


The Germans treat their football a lot like their language. Both start from solid foundations, but use that as the basis for all kinds of expression and invention. And being a national obsession, there are many footballing terms that have passed beyond the pitch and into wider use:

  • The arse card (Arschkarte): “To get the arse card” is to be sent off, or more generally to have something particularly bad happen to you. It ...

by Memrise at Wed, 29 Jun 2016 17:57 Instapaperify



How to Reframe Your Stress and Anxiety Into Productivity

It starts off slow. Heart rate building. Dry mouth. A drip of sweat slowly rolling down from your temple to your cheek. And then wham. A punch to the gut. Stress. It’s inevitable in life. And yet so many of us see it as something we can’t control. Or worse, something we should bury and ignore.


by Jory Mackay at Wed, 29 Jun 2016 17:00 Instapaperify


You’re Never Too Young (or Old) to Mentor

Mentoring always came natural to me. My first few gigs post college were teaching animation workshops to kids and grownups alike. As I got on with my career, I dispensed advice to friends and associates who found me increasingly qualified to consult. Eventually, I began teaching at a more professional level, even returning to my alma mater as an adjunct professor. When I decided to form an internship program at my boutique motion graphics company, I built in mentoring as part of the experience. So, I’ve become adept at listening to, empathizing with and questioning others. As well, I now have a broad range of personal experience to draw from for examples and suggestions.

Anywhere along your professional path, you can be a wonderful mentor to someone who’s following your footsteps, no matter how close they are. If you’re still in college, you can help high school students make important decisions. If you’ve just graduated, you’re able to advise on the status of the job field and share your experience ...

by seanblanda at Wed, 29 Jun 2016 16:50 Instapaperify

zen habits

Training to Be a Good Writer

By Leo Babauta

I’m not going to claim to be the world’s greatest writer, but I do think I’m reasonably competent. I’ve been training for 25 years, and I make a living as a writer.

For those who are just starting out as writers, I’d like to share my training. I didn’t wake up and suddenly know how to write — I’ve been training for most of my life.

A short background on my writing career: I started out as a sportswriter, as a senior in high school, and eventually became a full-time reporter and then editor for my local paper on Guam. I went on to do freelance writing for magazines and other publications, worked for awhile as a bill writer for lawmakers and a speechwriter for the Guam governor. Eventually I started my own blog while doing freelance blogging for about 5 different blogs. Finally, I’ve written my blog for almost 10 years now, and have written numerous books and courses.

Here are the most important ...

by zenhabits at Wed, 29 Jun 2016 14:00 Instapaperify

Art Markman, PhD

Creating Personalized Practice for Students

For a few decades now, educators have suggested that computers would vastly improve our ability to teach students.  The assumption has been that with computers we would be able to transport students to places they could not go on their own, allow them to communicate with people around the globe, and get more personalized instruction.

So far, the influence of computers in education has been mixed.  Computers clearly allow access to a much larger library of materials than students would were able to get before the internet.  In addition, students can view interesting videos that bring more content than the filmstrips and videos that were the norm in the past. 

However, computers have had a downside as well.  The internet provides a lot of distraction that leads students to try to multitask in ways that hamper learning.  Video lectures (like MOOCs) have not yet lived up to the hype.  It is just hard to watch a lecture on a screen.   And there have been few successful methods for personalizing instruction to individual student needs.

This ...

by Art Markman at Wed, 29 Jun 2016 13:29 Instapaperify

Beeminder Blog

Beeminder and Complice Make It Official

Beeminder and Complice logos (the former as a swarm of bees flying out of Complice's mouth)

Remember back in November when we first wrote about Complice on the blog? We described how nicely Beeminder and Complice complement each other for different goals and different aspects of goals, and described the new ways Complice could automatically send data to Beeminder. Well a lot has changed since then (thanks to extensive use of Beeminder and Complice, of course) and today we’re excited and proud to announce the official Beeminder+Complice integration. You know it’s the real deal because there’s an official landing page.

New Beeminder-friendly features in Complice

Beeminder now proudly occupies the prime hotkey ‘b’, which focuses the Beeminder quick-add box and dashboard for upcoming beemergencies. And there’s a super handy Beeminder widget for the Today page:

Screenshot of the Beeminder widget on the Today page on Complice

This is nice because Complice is designed to be the app you hang out in all day while being productive. It’s your productivity dashboard, complete with pomodoro timer and co-working rooms. So having a Beeminder widget right there on the today page makes it easy to pay attention to the ...

by dreeves at Wed, 29 Jun 2016 12:59 Instapaperify


The arXiv should be supported by the NSF

What the fuck is wrong with the NSF? Why isn’t it supporting the arXiv?

I have been offended and enraged recently to receive pleading emails from members of the hard-working Cornell University Library arXiv Team for money. As in, please give us $5.

This is a ridiculous state of affairs.

Right now arXiv, which hosts preprints from the fields of mathematics, computer science, physics, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, and statistics, plays an absolutely pivotal role in basic research in this country, especially given the expense and time-consuming journal publishing process.

It has an operating budget of less that $1 million per year, and is somehow left begging for personal donations, supplemented by small grants from the Simons Foundation.

If you look at the mission of the National Science Foundation, it’s first part is “to promote the progress of science.” Moreover, it has an annual budget of $7.5 billion. I cannot think of a better way for it to fulfill its mission than to support the maintenance and expansion of the arXiv.

Am ...

by Cathy O'Neil, mathbabe at Wed, 29 Jun 2016 12:43 Instapaperify

rationalist filter - Stack Exchange

What theory explains where motivation to do something depends on perception of others' input? –

I'm trying to read up on the phenomena where one person's desire/motivation to do a certain task or obligation within a system of process is influenced by whether he thinks others in that process are ...

by BenGurion at Wed, 29 Jun 2016 10:39 Instapaperify


Trump, Tribalism and Diatribes

Both Fareed Zakaria and 538’s legendary Nate Silver have issued apologias and post-mortems for having failed so utterly to predict Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.  Interesting reading.  And yet they seem determined to double down on mistakes.

1. Voters are more tribal than I thought.
2. GOP is weaker than I thought.
3. Media is worse than I thought.

Oh, certainly these have some general truth. And yet, does Donald Trump’s triumph in GOP primaries reflect on all “voters”? Or on the 6% or so of qualified U.S. citizens who cast ballots in his favor in primaries, so far?

More significant is the fact that another 4% or so backed raving reactionaries like Ted Cruz, with very few supporting the mainstream GOP pols whom Rupert Murdoch is used to having at his beck and call.  Sure, Trump is appealing to “tribalism.” But he has swayed a subset of a subset, so far.  

It will only be fair to impugn ...

by David Brin at Wed, 29 Jun 2016 01:01 Instapaperify

June 28, 2016

Blog – Cal Newport

Aziz Ansari Ignores His Email


Deep Thoughts with Aziz Ansari

Last summer, comedian and actor Aziz Ansari was a guest on Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics Radio show.

The stated purpose was to discuss Ansari’s book, Modern Romance, but the conversation wandered toward a wide-ranging exploration of Ansari’s complicated relationship with the Internet. I thought I would excerpt some choice quotes below.

Here’s Ansari on email versus depth:

“I would just get so many emails. And then when I started filming my TV show I just set up a thing that said, this email is dead. I’m not checking email…And I had an assistant on my show and I was like, you can call her…And you know what you realize is, all that shit people email you about all the time, all day, none of it is important. None of it is pressing…I found that I’m much more focused when I don’t have those little questions. And then at the end of the day I just have someone fill me in on ...

by Study Hacks at Tue, 28 Jun 2016 23:40 Instapaperify


The Mental Trick Pro Athletes Use for Better Portion Control

If you’re trying to develop a healthier diet, learning to manage your portions is an important step. This simple rule of thumb from a nutritionist who works with pro athletes can make visualizing appropriate portions easier.


by Patrick Allan at Tue, 28 Jun 2016 22:00 Instapaperify

Point of Inquiry

Surviving the Beauty Culture, with Autumn Whitefield-Mandrano

Autumn Whitefield-Mandrano is the author of the acclaimed new book on feminism and beauty, Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives. Her work can be found such outlets as Glamour, Jezebel, SalonThe Guardian, and her own blog, The Beheld: Beauty and What It Means. Her book takes a closer look at why beauty is so coveted in American society and how the pedestal of beauty affects women in particular.

She and host Lindsay Beyerstein delve into perceptions of beauty from both scientific and sociological perspectives. While Autumn’s research supports the notion that many women see beauty as a healthy celebration of individuality, she’s also all too aware of the multi-billion-dollar industry that cynically peddles snake oil and empty promises to women who feel forced to maintain impossible beauty standards.

Tue, 28 Jun 2016 19:22 Instapaperify


June Q&A: Psoriasis, Soda Replacements, Alternative Education & More – #322

Why You Should Listen – In this episode of Bulletproof Radio, we’ve selected the best questions that Bulletproof fans submitted through our voicemail, Facebook and the Bulletproof® Forums, for a great May Q&A. Listen to Dave and Bulletproof Coach trainer Dr. Mark Atkinson talk about psoriasis, sparkling mineral water and other soda replacements, depression, Waldorf schools, Brain Octane serving […]

by Dave Asprey at Tue, 28 Jun 2016 19:00 Instapaperify


Challenges in finding a great Vitamin A charity

Vitamin A supplementation involves giving Vitamin A to children at risk of deficiency to prevent death and other negative health impacts. We’d be interested in supporting a charity to carry out this program, but so far we have not found one we’d like to recommend.

The evidence on the effectiveness of the program raises a number of questions that we’d need a charity to answer, and we haven’t found one that can satisfactorily answer them. This post lays out the state of the evidence regarding Vitamin A, and the questions charities would need to answer to receive our recommendation.

This is a summary of our full report on Vitamin A Supplementation as a charitable program. As with our recent post about water quality interventions, we’re interested in providing more accessible summaries of our research to illustrate the challenges of identifying the most effective charities.

The key points of this post:

  • Vitamin A supplementation has a mixed evidence base that seems to suggest that the program is particularly effective in certain ...

by Sean at Tue, 28 Jun 2016 18:09 Instapaperify

Causal Analysis in Theory and Practice

On the Classification and Subsumption of Causal Models

From Christos Dimitrakakis:

>> To be honest, there is such a plethora of causal models, that it is not entirely clear what subsumes what, and which one is equivalent to what. Is there a simple taxonomy somewhere? I thought that influence diagrams were sufficient for all causal questions, for example, but one of Pearl’s papers asserts that this is not the case.

Reply from J. Pearl:

Dear Christos,

From my perspective, I do not see a plethora of causal models at all, so it is hard for me to answer your question in specific terms. What I do see is a symbiosis of all causal models in one framework, called Structural Causal Model (SCM) which unifies structural equations, potential outcomes, and graphical models. So, for me, the world appears simple, well organized, and smiling. Perhaps you can tell us what models lured your attention and caused you to see a plethora of models lacking subsumption taxonomy.

The taxonomy that has helped me immensely is the three-level hierarchy described in chapter 1 of my book Causality ...

by bryantc at Tue, 28 Jun 2016 17:32 Instapaperify

Scientific American Content: Mind Matters

The Power of Collective Memory

What do large groups of people remember—and forget?

--

by Henry L. Roediger, III at Tue, 28 Jun 2016 17:30 Instapaperify



Answer the ‘Miracle Question’ to Overcome Your Fitness Lows

The “miracle question” is a thought experiment that’s used in solutions-focused brief therapy. It’s designed to shift your focus on how helpless you feel to being able to see positive solutions and good things that are happening. Here’s how it can work for you.


by Stephanie Lee on Vitals, shared by Alan Henry to Lifehacker at Tue, 28 Jun 2016 16:30 Instapaperify


A look at Science Fiction webcomics: Part 3

What makes a science fictional webcomic? Many offer insights into science or space, artificial intelligence or how technology impacts our lives. Some have speculative fiction plotlines and are set in the distant future… but not all. A  good number depict spaceships, colony planets, faster than light travel, time travel, or alternate universes… but not all. Many portray alien species or talking anthropomorphic animals -- and reflect on the nature of humanity. 

More than a few explore post-apocalyptic scenarios after a fall from plague or widespread war; others have more mundane modern day settings, but deal with technological quandaries. Some offer drama or adventure; others are humorous or wry... and a few are rather dark. They tend to avoid tales of wizards and superheroes… or excess magic or mysticism. 

TV Tropes offers an extensive source of information about the common concepts of sci fi webcomics. 

This is a follow-up to my earlier postings on science and Science Fiction related comics: Part 1 looked at many excellent works such as Dresdan Codak, Schlock Mercenary, Girl Genius, SMBC, and ...

by David Brin at Tue, 28 Jun 2016 14:54 Instapaperify

NeuroLogica Blog

Caffeine and Sleep

caffeine-chemical-structureCaffeine is a drug. I think most people know that, but perhaps they don’t really think about it. Caffeine is essentially a legal unregulated drug (much like alcohol and nicotine, but with no age restriction).

Coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate are all common sources of caffeine. Many people use this drug on a regular basis, often daily. They become addicted to this drug, and suffer withdrawal symptoms when they don’t take their regular dose. If caffeine were not readily available in commonly consumed food and drink, and say it were being introduced as a new drug, I wonder how it would be viewed and regulated.

A new study looks at the effects of caffeine on mental performance in those who are sleep deprived (a common application). Caffeine is a stimulant, it therefore does increase alertness and mental function. However, like all stimulants, its effects are a double-edged sword.

The study looked involved only 48 subjects, and had them restricted to 5 hours of sleep per night. Half were then given caffeine at 8 ...

by Steven Novella at Tue, 28 Jun 2016 12:44 Instapaperify


WMD Audiobook!

Today and yesterday I’m recording the audiobook version of my upcoming book, Weapons of Math Destruction, in a studio in the Random House building near Columbus Circle.

It’s hard work! I’m constantly having to retake sentences, either because I thought my tone was too flat (I hate flat audiobook readers!), or wasn’t emphasizing the right words, or because the words are just hard to say.

Speaking of which, I promise to never, ever write the phrase “assist statistics” in anything that might someday be read out loud, ever, anywhere. And also, you are hereby prohibited from reading this blogpost out loud.

I was pretty worried that the actual content would be bothersome to me – that I’d find tons of typos, or that things would have changed so much that the content is no longer relevant. So far, so good, though, at least to my eyes.

I’m happy with the book! Is that ok to say (not out loud!!)? I’m holding on to this delicious feeling until the nasty ...

by Cathy O'Neil, mathbabe at Tue, 28 Jun 2016 12:31 Instapaperify

Notes from Two Scientific Psychologists

#MechanismWeek (a week of posts commencing June 20th 2016)

Cognitive science is, in principle, the search to understand the mechanisms that cause our behaviour to look the way that it does. We run experiments designed to figure out the form of the behaviour to be explained, and we propose models that try to account for the behaviour. But how well are we doing, and can we do better?

It turns out that there is a rich and extremely useful philosophical literature about mechanisms. Specifically, there is a lot of clear and accessible work describing what mechanisms are, and, more importantly, how science can go about modelling those mechanisms. This literature has provided us with a wonderfully useful central focus for our ongoing work, and I wanted to walk through the key issues here. (We have covered this topic in a couple of posts - here and here - but there are several interlocking issues that I want to spell out one at a time).

Sabrina is in Warsaw June 23-25th attending the Mechanistic Integration and Unification in Cognitive Science conference, where she will present on how ...

by Andrew Wilson at Tue, 28 Jun 2016 10:51 Instapaperify