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2014-10-06 08:49 am
Entry tags:

Signal boosts

So apparently this is a thing I'm doing now?

Actually the main reason I wanted to post Siderea's Patreon page here is because reading her descriptions of what each pledge will get you fills me with amusement and joy. Also, I've missed her posts too - she writes group dynamics and psychology and various other things that are harder to pigeonhole, but it's all deeply insightful and I've learnt a lot from contemplation of the thoughts her writing stirs up in me. I intend to fund her as soon as I have a few spare minutes today that I'm not procrastinating from studying for a midterm.

The second signal boost that I promised a friend is for her friend's RPG maker game on Kickstarter, over here. I'm told it has a female protagonist and a canon genderqueer character and is lots of fun even though at the moment it's still in alpha. I probably won't be funding it personally because I already have a stack of games that I'll never play as long as my arm, but if I was in the unusual position of having both spare time and money, a game like this would be right up my alley.

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2014-04-08 01:21 pm

The evolution of menstruation

Kind of terrifying

Choice excerpts:

"Inside the uterus we have a thick layer of endometrial tissue, which contains only tiny blood vessels. The endometrium seals off our main blood supply from the newly implanted embryo. The growing placenta literally burrows through this layer, rips into arterial walls and re-wires them to channel blood straight to the hungry embryo. It delves deep into the surrounding tissues, razes them and pumps the arteries full of hormones so they expand into the space created. It paralyzes these arteries so the mother cannot even constrict them"

"This might seem rather disrespectful. In fact, it's sibling rivalry at its evolutionary best. You see, mother and fetus have quite distinct evolutionary interests. The mother 'wants' to dedicate approximately equal resources to all her surviving children, including possible future children, and none to those who will die. The fetus 'wants' to survive, and take as much as it can get. (The quotes are to indicate that this isn't about what they consciously want, but about what evolution tends to optimize.)

There's also a third player here – the father, whose interests align still less with the mother's because her other offspring may not be his. Through a process called genomic imprinting, certain fetal genes inherited from the father can activate in the placenta. These genes ruthlessly promote the welfare of the offspring at the mother's expense."

"Far from offering a nurturing embrace, the endometrium is a lethal testing-ground which only the toughest embryos survive. The longer the female can delay that placenta reaching her bloodstream, the longer she has to decide if she wants to dispose of this embryo without significant cost. The embryo, in contrast, wants to implant its placenta as quickly as possible, both to obtain access to its mother's rich blood, and to increase her stake in its survival. For this reason, the endometrium got thicker and tougher – and the fetal placenta got correspondingly more aggressive.

But this development posed a further problem: what to do when the embryo died or was stuck half-alive in the uterus? The blood supply to the endometrial surface must be restricted, or the embryo would simply attach the placenta there. But restricting the blood supply makes the tissue weakly responsive to hormonal signals from the mother – and potentially more responsive to signals from nearby embryos, who naturally would like to persuade the endometrium to be more friendly. In addition, this makes it vulnerable to infection, especially when it already contains dead and dying tissues.

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2011-10-27 07:20 pm

One of many reasons I love Hyperbole and a Half

Even when accurately describing the crushing misery/apathy that characterises a bout of depression she manages to be entertaining.
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2011-08-06 10:35 pm

What it's like to have literally no imagination

A couple of excerpts:

"It is dark and quiet in my mind all the time. Thoughts take the form of silently talking to myself. There are only words. No visual memory, no imagination -- I don't know what these things are, they are only words. Seeing things in the mind, hearing things, re-experiencing, exploring non-physical possibilities via imagination: these all sound like paranormal or supernatural experiences to me, literally, because what is normal and natural for me is the dark and quiet mind."

"Reading a novel or watching a movie is a lot like other things in my life: I am only engaging in the current moment of it mentally, the preceding parts are gone, because there is no way to hold on to them mentally. In order to watch a movie or read a novel, I make the effort the keep a running memorization going of a few key plot points in order to process the story. As soon as the movie is over or I've put the book down, it's basically gone from my consciousness, unless I try to think about it or talk about it, and then I only have access to those points that I memorized in order to keep up with the plot, which is a very bare-bones summary."

I consider myself to have extremely weak powers of visualisation compared to most, but the idea of being even more limited than that in all my mental senses kind of freaks me out.
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2011-07-14 11:39 am

More on language and memory

 So it turns out I misremembered the study I saw about children not being able to lay down memories without language. The study I meant to refer to actually shows that children could only describe events using the vocabulary they had at the time the memory was encoded. Which in younger children meant that they couldn't describe it verbally at all. However, they were able to remember it, as evidenced by their ability to re-enact it and recognise photos of the activity involved.

And studies of young children involving conditioning show that even very young children are perfectly capable of remembering things (see this paper which includes a description of tying a baby's foot to a mobile with string so that it could entertain itself, and then checking how long some string or the mobile would elicit the learnt kicking motions), so it's not that children are incapable of remembering events per se. (although that paper does note that their memory of the mobile/string thing only lasted for a few weeks at the outer limit).

There's a bunch of other research out there, but most of it isn't solid and/or is hidden behind paywalls, so it's difficult to really check. But it looks like the 'context-specific' explanation is the leading one so far. I'd be really interested in trying to find other people who've undergone relatively severe paradigm shifts in the way they think, and see whether their memory from before the paradigm shift is worse than you would normally expect for older memories. Or is the preverbal -> verbal shift the only one big enough to potentially make all the previous states of mind completely inaccessible?
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2011-07-11 10:16 pm

Misconduct in science

 Who'da thunk it that scientists are just as prone to cheating as people in other professions? A Nature article(non-paywalled version) found that around a third of around 3000 respondents admitted to having engaging in some kind of scientific misconduct, ranging from falsified data to the comparatively benign sin of not keeping proper records related to research projects.

Looking at the percentages of people confessing to various behaviours puts me strongly in mind of one of Dan Ariely's studies, documented in Predictably Irrational, where he gave people tests with monetary rewards for correct answers, and then progressively made it easier for each subsequent group to cheat. His overwhelming conclusions were a) that people will cheat if you let them, but only up to a certain point, and b) that removing money from the equation by, for example, giving the participants tokens that were exchanged for money just a minute or two later, greatly increased the incidence of cheating because money is Serious Business. 
We can see the same kind of cheating going on here, with relatively large numbers of respondents admitting to some kind of misconduct, but most of it being of the minor easy to rationalise variety and further away from the parts of their work that really pay their salary (funding and publishing). For example, 7.6% of all respondents admitted to circumventing minor aspects of human-subject requirements but only 0.3% circumvented major aspects. Similarly, almost no one failed to disclose involvement in firms whose products were based on their research (0.3%) but around 15% allowed funding sources to pressure them into changing their design, methodology, or results, despite the same type of objectivity being called for. 

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2011-07-11 09:41 am

Take that, Sapir-Whorf!

 Apparently, thought isn't as dependent on language as we might naively think


"The man she would call, ‘Ildefonso,’ had figured out how to survive, in part by simply copying those around him, but he had no idea what language was. Schaller found that he observed people’s lips and mouth moving, unaware that they were making sound, unaware that there was sound, trying to figure out what was happening from the movements of the mouths. She felt that he was frustrated because he thought everyone else could figur e things out from looking at each others’ moving mouths.
In contrast to the absolute inability Idefenso had getting the idea of ‘idea,’ or his struggles with points in time, he clearly was capable of all sorts of tasks that suggest he was not mentally inert or completely vacant. He had survived into adulthood, crossed into the US, kept himself from being mowed down in traffic or starving to death. Moreover, he and other languageless individuals had apparently figured out ways to communicate without a shared language, which I find both phenomenally intriguing and difficult to even imagine (putting aside the definitional problem of distinguishing human communication from ‘language’ broadly construed).

Schaller highlights that learning language isolated Ildefonso from other languageless individuals. Schaller explains:

The only thing he said, which I think is fascinating and raises more questions than answers, is that he used to be able to talk to his other languageless friends. They found each other over the years. He said to me, “I think differently. I can’t remember how I thought.” I think that’s phenomenal!

That last part about not being able to remember how to think or talk to his languageless friends echoes other research that language is important for encoding memories (I don't have the link handy, but in short: young childrens' ability to remember stuff was shown to be strongly correlated with their progress in language acquisition). But the way Ildefonso is described above makes me think that the lack of ability to remember pre-language events might not be due to an inability to encode memories in the absence of linguistic symbols, but a result of not sharing enough mental context with your prelinguistic self to be able to retrieve them.
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2011-05-13 08:14 am
Entry tags:

A scale to check if you're in an unhealthy group/relationship

Scroll down past the wall of text to find the scale. A high score overall is bad, a low score is good.

Via a LessWrong discussion about whether adopting a certain set of practices is likely to lead to cultism.
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2011-03-27 08:07 pm
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Two interesting links

1. The Bilderberg Conference

I just learnt about this from a local news/analysis show; the Bilderberg Group consists of a group of about 150 extremely powerful people (typical attendees include powerful politicians, bankers, board members of large multinational corporations, and sometimes heads of state such as Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands) from around the world meeting up every year. Apparently they've been meeting every year since 1954, but these meetings were secret until some time in the early 2000's. They've been accused of conspiring against us all by both the left and the right, but Bilderberg Secretary of the steering community had this to say on the matter:

"When people say this is a secret government of the world I say that if we were a secret government of the world we should be bloody ashamed of ourselves."

From what I can tell, it's kind of like the UN Version 2 only without any kind of oversight, and possibly getting ready to take over the world.

2. Quantum Jumping

Because we don't have enough New Age-y self-help programs around.

The premise behind this one is that the many worlds interpretation of quantum theory is true, which means that everything I could possibly have done has happened in an alternate universe somewhere. By visiting those other versions of me I can borrow their energy, or learn their awesome alternate-universe skills, or whatever. One of the testimonials features a woman who had a nasty headache, and instead of taking pills, decided to visit her alternate non-headachey self. And it worked, exceeding her wildest expectations! The other testimonial features a guy who went to visit his alternate self who is a world-reknowned public speaker, and while he hasn't put these new skills to the test yet he's sure that next time he has to speak in public he'll be awesome! The site also features particularly silly graphics and weird site design choices.
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2009-11-12 10:05 pm
Entry tags:

How to write badly well

Amused me enough to link :)

An excerpt:

Learn about syllepsis, then refuse to stop employing it

Joe Stockley was in an expensive sports car and deep trouble. This time, he had really let his mouth and his exotic foreign lover run away with him and it was getting beyond a joke and his immediate circle of friends in the form of rumours and speculation.
As he ran a red light, the conversation back in his mind and away from his troubles, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of rising panic and the soft matte finish of his hand-stitched leather steering wheel. Angelica had been absolutely right and his wife for fifteen years, so why was he running scared, these kind of risks and this deadly gauntlet of illicit entanglements?

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2009-02-25 07:00 am
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Worthwhile link

It's wordy as hell but the lesson is pretty effective, IMHO
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2008-03-01 04:01 pm
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This amuses me greatly

Bugrof! The networking site for antisocials.

Link borrowed from, who spends most of his time blogging about computer games and roleplaying and other nerd culture stuff.
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2006-08-03 12:40 am

A thought experiment by Scott Adams

What I found most fascinating about this is that the views on God are exactly what my friend Zhe and I discussed late into the night once upon a time, and which I reproduced in part in an earlier post about the nature of God

Still reading, and having a ball in the process :)