Purposeful Practice and Expertise

The Expert Mind,” by Philip Ross, Scientific American, 24 July 2006, http://scientificamerican.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=00010347-101C-14C1-8F9E83414B7F4945 (from Slashdot).

The Schizophrenic Symptom of Flat Affect,” by Michael Crawford, kuro5hin, 17 August 2006, http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2006/8/15/35149/9787.

With Hugh MacLeod, Mark Safranski, and Francis Younghusband blogging on how to be creativity, two articles (one in a prestigious magazine, the other a quirky blog) that give a big hint: practice!

From a researcher at Scientific American, writing on chess:

The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

And a suffer of schizo-affective disorder, writing on getting a date and learning how to smile:

What made the difference? Practice: one can learn to express emotion through conscious effort. With enough conscious practice, affective expression can become unconscious and natural. However, even after all these years I usually seem stoic and unemotional. That is, except when I play music or write, or am incredibly overcome.

My therapist warned that it was likely to take some time to reach my goal, but she asked me to regard every attempt to attract a woman as practice towards gaining the skills I needed to succeed someday. And friends, that’s what I did: during some sessions she assigned me the task of chatting up a strange girl, and at the next we would discuss my experience, as well as how I could do better next time.

Of course, readers of tdaxp know this already:


(The adaptive trait of learned helplessness lets humans practice more in some areas than others, allowing highly productive experts to network each other and out-compete groups of generalists. Such intricate self-organization is a feature of complex adaptive systems, such as the market economy. This increasingly social, networked style of man may be way the human brain begin shrinking about 15 thousand years ago.)

Netroots on Insurgency

Flies vs. Hammers: How Asymmetric Warfare Works,” by Pericles, Daily Kos, 31 July 2006, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/7/31/172013/456 (from Daily Kos).

An exceptionally (and I mean in the “Deviating widely from a norm” sense) good article on Kos on asymmetric warfare. Some excerpts:

In a successful insurgency, warriors are only the tip of a large iceberg. Even though the number of active warriors may be small, a much larger segment of the population is at some earlier stage of recruitment. Some sympathize with the insurgents silently; they know who the warriors are, but chose not to tell the occupiers. Some help in small ways, by delivering messages, holding money, or even hiding weapons. Some harbor warriors and help them hide from the occupiers. Some will not fight, but will act as look-outs and report the movements of occupying troops. A successful insurgency is always losing warriors (sometimes by intentional suicide attacks), but the pipeline of recruitment is full of people moving to ever greater levels of commitment.

All effective anti-insurgent strategies involve drying up the supply of recruits by isolating the insurgents from the larger population.

In order to disrupt that supply, the occupier need not be loved. It need only convince the population that ending the occupation is not worth dying for.

Think about it: Suppose the insurgents sat on their hands for a year while they waited for us to withdraw. Iraq, in other words, gets a year of peaceful governance and reconstruction. Roads and power plants are built. Businesses are started. Pipelines transport oil without interruption while tens of billions of petrodollars flow into the country. People rebuild their homes, get jobs, enroll their children in school. And most of all, old wounds recede ever farther into the past.

What happens to the insurgent recruitment pipeline during that year? It collapses. In the course of that year, many people who thought they were willing to die would realize they had something to live for. No insurgent leader could allow it.

Read the whole thing. (The companion article on asymmetric politics is good, too. Of course, it cribs tdaxp…)

Love and Loss, but the greatest of these is Love

The week, Saturday to Saturday, my grandfather died would have been the most meaningful of my life even if he had been perfectly healthy throughout.

His death overshadowed what happened that week. But the story is still important, and I will tell it here without identifying anyone but myself. I was extremely well treated by everyone. In a way it was extremely pleasant, because everyone gave me every courtesy. I admire and respect every soul I dealt with. (I have these compliments because I do not want this to be misconstrued as in any way negative. A serious choice had to be made, but it could not have been made with the help of nicer people in a better cause. To anyone involved who may be reading this: thank you)

I applied for a position at a company I admire a lot. My interactions with the firm in the past had been extremely positive. I enjoy being with people smarter and cleverer than I am, and this firm was one of those places. It is one of those places.

I submitted my resume and a portfolio of my work. Some of my friends helped me arranging the portfolio’s presentation, and I am incredibly grateful for their work. In every way they improved by original concept. In friends as well as employers, I strive to be around people better than I am.

My resume and portfolio must have been well received, because I was quickly schedule for an interview. The interviewer, like everyone else at the company, was enthusiastic, helpful, and knowledgeable. The interview went well and concrete future details were discussed. I was asked for any concerns, and I noted that my grandfather was in unstable condition and I would not want to be away from him during his last days. (He would die that week.) Additionally, for very understandable reasons, a careful background check would be required. So I was asked if there was anything embarrassing that it would turn up… was I ever arrested? Convicted? An agent of a foreign government?

“No,” I truthfully responded, “but there is one thing that you deserve to know. I am in a serious, long-term relationship with a foreign national.” I was referring to Lady of tdaxp, a resident of Beijing and (through an academic scholarship) a Communist partisan

Two days later I was called at home and told that this would be a problem. The current relationship was not, but an ongoing one would be. Outside of renunciation of citizenship (a step that would not be practical until she was eligible for American citizenship), such a continuing association would likely be a fatal problem in the background check.

The reason that the check was required, and its strictness, are perfectly understandable. And it was hardly unexpected — I recognized early that falling in love with a Beijing Communist would lead to complications. For my grandfather, marrying a Missouri Lutheran meant having in-laws who believed you were a heretic who could not even say grace with. I am fortunate in that I’ve faced no ill will (anywhere outside of Badaling) because of the race or nature of my girl. Just this honest complication: an upfront notification of security and procedures by a helpful, truthful employee of a great and careful company.

It was a Choice, an inflection point in Life. Before me were two exclusive paths. One led to a wonderful, admired company with smart, hard-working co-workers. The other to my love.

No one was at fault. No one was being unfair. It was as close to an abstract question as one can get in this concrete world.

So I chose love, and I recognize that similar companies will probably have the same requirements. Is it a loss? Well… it’s a cost. Any investment, any activity, any gain has a cost. The question should be: is it worth it? And that answer’s easy.

A million times over.

Are Americans Hyperactive Neanderthals?

United States of Cavemania

During my recent journey across America (well, Indiana, Texas, and a few short stops) I read some journal articles for my class on genetic politics. I have already read three texts for that class, so it was an interesting change of pace.

Behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology, two scientific disciplines with related but separate views on Human Nature, are controversial. And by “controversial” I mean “detested by the Left.” While BG and EP have different assumptions and often draw different conclusions, the Leftist belief of omni cultura ex cultura denies any genetic link to behaviors. When feminists attacked Harvard President Larry Summers for saying the sexes may think differently and apologized for it, we saw a once-great American university bow to Leftist pressure to bury genetic research.

This genetic politics post focuses on one surprising hypothesis generated by Behavioral Genetics (if not Evolutionary Psychology): that Americans may be more “Neanderthal” than other peoples. Specifically, an odd mutation linked to a form of ADD is prevalent among both whites and american indians. No “missing links” between this mutation and the standard genetic sequences are known. Either every single one has died out in the human population — or this mutation did not come from a human population.

Notes from a journal article and a commentary are extracted below.

In Our Genes,” by Henry Harpeding and Gregory Cochran, PNAS, 8 January 2002, http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/extract/99/1/10.

Evidence of positive selection acting at the human dopamine receptor D4 gene locus,” by Yuan-Cun Ding et al, PNAS, 8 January 2002, http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/99/1/309.

“Associations have been reported of the seven-repeat (7R) allele of the human dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) gene with both attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and the personality treat of novelty seeking.” (Ding et al 309)

“calculations of the allele age based on the relatively high worldwide population frequency of the DRD4 4R and 7R alleles suggest that these alleles are ancient (>300,000 years old. refs. 25 and 26; see Methods). On the other hand, calculations of the allele age based on the observed intraallelic variability (refs. 26 and 26, see Methods) suggest that the 7R allele is 5-10 fold “younger” (30,000-50,000 years old). Such a large discrepancies between allele ages calculated by these two methods usually are taken as evidnece that selection has increased the frequency of the allele to higher levels than expected by random genetic drift (26).” (Ding et al 313)

“It is difficult ot imagine what type of bottleneck could produce such results, i.e., strong worldwide LD for a single allele (DRD47R), yet little LD for the remaining alleles. A model that is consistent with the observed results is the “weak Garden of Eden” hypothesis (24), in which the DRD4 allele would be hypothesized to be ancient and present in indigenous populations, whereas the 7R allele was spread by expansion out of (and into) Africa.” (Ding et al 313)

“Given the highly unlikely recombination/mutation events required to generate the 7R allele from the 4R allele, a possibility worth considering is that importation of this allele from a closely related hominid lineage. What lineage that may be can only be speculated, but Neanderthal populations were present at the approximate time the 7R allele originated. Under this model, the coalescence time for the 4R and 7R alleles then would be ancient, with the importation occurring only recently, as measured by LD. Obviously, additional experimental work may clarify these speculations.” (Ding et al 313-314)

“It is possible also to speculate, however, that the very traits that may be selected for in individuals possessing a DRD4 7R allele may predispose behaviors that are deemed inappropriate in the typical classroom setting and hence diagnosed as ADHD.” (Ding et al 314)

“The D4 dopamine receptor (DRD4) locus may be a model system for understanding the relationship between genetic variation and human cultural diversity.” (Harpending and Cochran 10)

“[Ding et al] showed that the allele associated with ADHD has increased a lot in frequency within the last few thousand to tens of thousands of years.” (Harpending and Cochran 10)

“This curious pattern, an allele that has been in the population for a very long time at a very low frequency, suggests that some kind of balancing selection has been maintaining 7R, but preventing it from becoming common until recently. An alternative is that 7R was incorporated form another hominid species during the expansion of modern humans.” (Harpending and Cochran 10)

“It is entirely possible that some psychological traits are adaptive yet, because they are irritating or undesirable, are called mental illness.” (Harpending and Cochran 10)

“Even if 40 or 50 thousand years were too short a time for the evolutionary development of a truly new and highly complex mental adaption, which is by no means certain, it is certainly long enough for some groups to lose such an adaption, for some groups to develop a highly exaggerated version of an adaption, or for changes int eh triggers or timing of that adaption to evolve.” (Harpending and Cochran 10-11)

“These selective forces must not be the same in all populations, because the 7R allele is quite common in some populations (South American Indians), exists at intermediate frequencies in others (Europeans and Africans), and is rare or non-existant in yet others (East Asia, !Kung Bushmen) (2).” (Harpending and Cochran 11)

“Because the prominent phonotypica effects of 7R are in males, we need to ask what is the niche in human socities for males who are energetic, impulsive (i.e. unpredictable) and noncompliant?)” (Harpending and Cochran 11)

“Boserupt (16) calls these ‘female farming systems,’ a euphemism for societies where men live off women. Freed from domestic responsibility, men can occupty their time decorating themselves and planning the next raid.” (Harpending and Cochran 11-12)

“There is an unsettling parallel with the dad males of the working class in contemporary industrial societies and the cad males of the underclass (17).” (Harpending and Cochran 12)

“One study found that a simple of difficult infants survived a drought at a higher rate than easy infants (18).” (Harpending and Cochran 12)

“It is probably no accident that two of the best known ethnographies of the twentieth century are titled ‘The Harmless People’ about the !Kung who have few or no 7R alleles, and “The Fierce People,” about the Yanomamo with a high frequency of 7R.” (Harpending and Cochran 12)

A New Middle East, Part I: Our Vanquished Enemies

The Big Bang spreads . . . the rough way,” by Thomas Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog, 7 October 2005, http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/archives2/002427.html (from tdaxp).

President’s Radio Address,” by George Bush, White House Radio, 19 August 2006, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/08/20060819.html.

As George Bush assumed power in January 2001, the Middle East was in a dire state. The al-Qaeda backed Taliban government ruled Afghanistan, while the noxious rule of the Arab Nationalist-Secularist governments (some in uneasy league with America, others opposed) ruled Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria. If al Qaeda was a rapist, doing damage quickly and violently, the Nationalist-Secularists were parents with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. While al Qaeda was more mindlessly violent, the National-Secularists had been disastrous for their states, rolling back the traditional governments and traditional societies that once existed in those lands. The National-Secularists, from the Ba’ath, to Fatah, to the rest, were politically and intellectually bankrupt.


Red = National-Secularist, Green = Shia, Yellow = Tribal, Black = al Qaeda, Blue = Globalist

Since then the situation has changed for the better. In three states the National-Secularists have been driven out: by the US military in Iraq, by the people in Palestine, and by a combination of internal factions and external pressure in Lebanon. And Afghanistan, of course, was liberated in Operational Enduring Freedom.

Red = National-Secularist, Green = Shia, Yellow = Tribal, Blue-Geen = Contested between Iran and Globalist, Blue = Globalist, Purple = Muslim Brothers

That these places are unstable is not proof that Bush’s plan is failing, but that it is working. As the President recently said

It is no coincidence that two nations that are building free societies in the heart of the Middle East, Lebanon and Iraq, are also the scenes of the most violent terrorist activity.

The same is true, of course, when Palestine, where the Muslim Brother’s local branch, Hamas, is squeezed between a justly hostile Israeli and unjustly hostile National-Secularist dead-enders.

If we are to judge the Global War on Terrorism by the standards of Thomas Barnett:

In the end, what will have to change for all this violence in the Middle East to stop is not our withdrawal, but political reform in the region. Keeping this fight suppressed, or having it exported to our shores like it was on 9/11 is certainly a safer route for the local authoritarian regimes. Then again, I think 9/11 put us past caring about those regimes’ stability like we used to.

Bush basically runs a race with Osama: who can destabilize the region’s regimes first? Both sides want change, but only one wants to replace the current autocracies with a religious dictatorship. What Bush wants solves the problem. What Osama wants merely extends it.

Then we are clearly winning this Long War. We destabilized Afghanistan, throwing al Qaeda out of their only State. We destabilized National-Secularist Iraq, and now contend with Iran (not al Qaeda) in seeing which of us has the most influence in that State. We destabilize National-Secularist Lebanon, and now content with Iran (not al Qaeda) in seeing which of us has the most influence in that State.

In this New Middle East we are building, we will have to be careful. We will have to deal wisely with the new regional indigenous hegemon, Iran. But we will not have to fear al Qaeda or the National-Secularists. They will be killed. That is why we can leave Iraq now.

A New Middle East, a tdaxp series
A New Middle East 1: Our Vanquished Enemies
A New Middle East 2: Iran
A New Middle East 3: Israel
A New Middle East 4: Islam is the Answer