The First Word RY

This web comic reminds me of how strangely beautiful the world is.

The new strategies of desire RY

Rob Horning:

In Dichter's time, figuring out how to manipulate consumers beneath the level of consciousness was a matter of applying Freudian theory in what seemed to be intuitive, arbitrary ways ("To elevate typewriter sales, [Dichter] suggested the machines be modelled on the female body, 'making the keyboard more receptive, more concave,' " the article notes). Now it's more a matter of Paco Underhill-style applied surveillance, where retailers spy on their consumers, amass data on their aggregate behavior and draw conclusions that no individual consumer would have been able to explain—what kind of music leads to more purchases, how wide the aisles should be, which products should be placed at eye level, and so on.

It's interesting to me that consumer product design style does not just evolve based on stylistic trends, but also trends in models of consumer behavior. We now use a model-less model, where computers derive statistical models that are not based on psychology, merely on data points.

It seems to me that the only individual recourse to the billion-dollar market research industry is to use the same tools ourselves on ourselves. Measure yourself, hoard your data, build models, and use those models to direct your behavior.

What I Learned from The Black Swan RY

Two kinds of randomness

When faced with a model that contains randomness, we must determine whether the situation belongs in what Taleb calls "Extremistan" or "Mediocristan". In Mediocristan, the Bell Curve fits data. In Extremistan, we get hockey-stick curves.

Beware the use of the bell curve.

The error matters more than the estimate

When making an estimate (or prediction), the error is often so high that the prediction is useless. Further, we often don't need to predict so much as prepare. We don't need to know what exactly will happen to know that something will happen.

Limit your downside and increase exposure to upside

Since in "Extremistan" the upsides and downsides are unlimited, we need to limit our exposure to the downside. Otherwise, sooner or later, we will run out of luck. Similarly, we want to be well exposed to fortuitous upsides because, sooner or later, you will get lucky.

Taleb suggests 80-90% of our money should be invested in the safest bet we can make. The remaining 10-20% should be spread out among the most bets with unlimited upside we can.

Silent Evidence

Most successes in winner-take-all scenarios are based on luck. Nobody wins forever.

If you can model success with a purely random process, beware narrative explanations.


There's plenty more in the book, though I'd need to reread it to get at it. Also, I'd like to build these ideas into exercises and transformations to myself. We'll see how that goes.

Primal Transhumanism RY

George Dvorsky:

I’m not sure what’s more ironic: that a primitive approach to eating and fitness is the best way to optimize human health and performance, or that computer nerds are catching on and becoming complete bad-asses by engaging in these kinds of body hacks.

To me, a "paleo lifestyle" appeals to geeks for several reasons.

  • It has a scientific basis: genes, biochemistry, and physiology are all mentioned frequently. And actual scientific studies are read and cited.
  • Experimentation is encouraged. Theory to Practice, for example, exalts the n=1 experiment.
  • The assumption that "Human beings are not broken by default." (Latest in Paleo). People are realizing the untruths taught to us by civilization about ourselves. It is all part of the process of learning and becoming more rational about reality.

Often, we have to take one step back to take two steps forward. Until we have DIY gene therapy kits, we're stuck dealing with the genes we've got, which, far from being designed, were selected for by the pressures of the African savanna. We have to make due with what we've got.

Scalable Lifespan RY

I was reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In Chapter 10, he uses lifespan as an example of something that is not scalable. The older you get, the shorter your remaining lifespan is.

It occurred to me that the quest for life extension technologies aims to make lifespan scalable. In short: The longer you live, the more life you have left.

Scalable Lifespan is the dream of every person who has believed that they belong to the first generation that would not die. They believed that if they lived long enough, they could live to see a new technology that could extend their life a finite but significant amount. That new extension would allow them to live to use the next technique, ad infinitum. And so they would skip from one life extension technology to the next, evading death indefinitely.

I am not smart enough to know whether I will be a part of the first generation who will not die. I only hope that I am. Immortality is something I want very badly.