Saturday, October 24, 2009

how the brain works...


"the brain creates a version of the universe and projects this like a bubble around us."

"99% of what you see is not what comes in through the eyes, it is what you infer."

"reality emerges out of the fabric of the brain."

"how could we possibly create a reality that we can even understand each other [as every brain has a different fabric]?" although the brain circuitry can change, the pattern of reality that emerges does not.

the first glimpse of simulated neuron activity in a supercomputer: the raw electrical activity creates "ghost like structures"

"the universe [possibly] has evolved the brain to see itself. which may be a first step of becoming aware of itself."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

the idiosyncratic borders of knowledge


we spend billions of dollars trying to understand the origins of the universe, while we still don't understand the conditions for a stable society, a functioning economy, or peace.

Dirk Helbing, July 2009, Science special online collection: Complex Systems and Networks

[..] we have better maps of Mars than [the territory belonging to the US that lies beneath the sea, which is as big as the US itself].

Robert Ballard, December 2008, Exploring the Oceans (TED talk)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

good and evil

how to get people to do evil:
  • mindlessly taking the first small step down the road to evil
  • dehumanization of others
  • de-individuation of self (anonymity)
  • diffusion of personal responsibility
  • blind obedience to authority
  • uncritical conformity to group norms
  • passive tolerance of evil (inaction, indifference)
watch philip zimbardo's (the stanford prison experiment guy) ted talk:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

the cause of the financial crisis..

how did a housing crisis become a financial crisis, ending up as an economic crisis?

how come highly trained professionals didn't see it coming?

a nice simple summary visualizing all the subprime mortgage, CDO, CDS, leverage, tranching, rating, AAA, default, frozen credit market stuff:

at the barebones level, wired magazine gives insight into the core mechanism in their article Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street.

the culprit:

the gaussian copula function

basically a quantity measuring the correlation (preciser: the dependence structure) of two random variables.

"the corporate CDO world relied almost exclusively on this copula-based correlation model."
"everyone was pinning their hopes on house prices continuing to rise."

the idea, published in 2000, quickly became a metric quants ubiquitously used to evaluate risk and a cornerstone of financial engineering allowing simple modeling of vastly complex risks. particularly default risks of CDO tranches. until august 2007...

the ideas:

cartoon from

update 28th of june 2010:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

who cares?

mood: more bewilderment and head-shaking
is the human brain big enough to save one of the most intelligent creatures? greenpeace asks cynically in an add, aiming at banning whaling amongst other ocean related concerns.

when i mention i'm vegetarian in restaurants, a frequent response is to point me in the direction of the fish...

greenpeace campaign

fact i: the ocean is humanities last frontier of ignorance
  • 72% of earth's surface covered by sea
  • 97% of the ocean is unexplored
  • with one yearly NASA budget, the exploration program of NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) could be funded for 1600 years
  • largest mountain range covering 23% of earth's surface area underwater (visited for the 1st time after the moon in 1973)
  • coral reefs still unexplored between 60 and 150 meters
  • there are better maps of mars than the 50% of total US territory which lies under the sea
  • most of the southern hemisphere's underwater terrain is unexplored (more exploration ships in that region during captain cook's times than today)
  • the seabed is harboring countless well preserved archaeological artifacts
  • underwater hot springs are basically commercial grade heavy metals deposits
  • underwater volcanoes are emitting methane
fact ii: the oceans are teeming with life
  • although most of the ocean does not get exposed to photons from the sun, and hence there is no photosynthesis, it is completely erroneous to not expect life
  • the antarctic sea is, unexpectedly and only recently discovered, teeming with marine life
  • hydrothermal vent systems are islands of life
  • bacteria replicating photosynthesis in the dark by chemosynthesis where accidental discovery as no one ever predicted their existence
  • resilient bacteria living in ph 11 environments
  • 7 new species found per hour of deep reef exploration
  • 2000 to 2500 estimated new species in the indo-pacific ocean alone (vs. 5000-6000 known species)
  • not only new species are still being discovered, but also new behavior and new ecology
  • amazing variety of bioluminescent animals
fact iii: the seas are being destroyed at breakneck speed
  • 90% of all big fish have disappeared in the last 100 years
  • 50% of all coral reefs are destroyed
  • for 1kg of fish ending up in a market, at least 10kg of bycatch was killed and thrown away
  • 1.7% of the blue whale population is remaining
  • 10% of the tuna fish population is remaining
  • commercial trawlers are forced to access ever deeper seabed due to the depletion of fisheries; this completely destroys potential habitats which are totally unexplored and eradicates possibly unknown species
  • throwaway plastic accumulating in the sea (half of the 100 billion pounds of plastic pellets a year are made into throwaway plastic produces of which a large fraction ends up in the sea)
  • 100000 albatross chicks in remote habitats dying from stomachs filled with plastic trash
  • some ocean water samples contain more plastic than plankton
  • plastic debris concentrate pollutants and become "poison pills"
  • these are been eaten by many fish at the bottom of the food chain
  • gigantic garbage patches in the pacific and atlantic

Sylvia Earle's moving (and prizewinning) TED talk:

Robert Ballard: Exploring the ocean's hidden worlds

Captain Charles Moore on the seas of plastic

Richard Pyle: Exploring the reef's Twilight Zone

David Gallo fascinating TED talk:

update 20.04.2010:
Edith Widder: Glowing life in an underwater world

update 05.05.2010:

update 02.06.2010:
Brian Skerry reveals ocean's glory -- and horror

update june 30th 2010:

update july 12 2010:

update july 27 2010: