Guns, Genomes, and Steel

I’m currently watching the PBS version of “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” based on the book by Jared Diamond. My take is that Guns, Germs, and Steel is a story of the rise of the genomeplex — that assortment of different species (cows, dogs, men, etc) that together make up the foundations for human culture.

In short, Diamond’s argument is that biologically-driven efficiencies in every plant and animal in the genomeplex except for homo sapiens led to the rise of homo sapiens. Clearly, biologically-driven efficiency is a powerful argument. If one’s crops provide less protein, or one’s animals are less docile, one is not going to get as far in life.

But neglecting to mention our species in a story of the rise of our genomeplex is strange. One line from the documentary I think sums of Diamond’s blindspot:

pigs do not give milk

This is obviously incorrect. Pigs are mammals. Pigs suckle their young.

Further, as far as human-drinkable milk goes — neither did cows! The ability of adults to drink cow milk comes from a mutations (several of them, occurring independently, in different places and times). Our ancestors could not drink cow milk. But our ancestors’ children were mutants.

Lactose tolerance is one mutation that occurred in some populations but not others, but there are other mutations like this too.

The rest of our genomeplex is not equal in productivity. Our species is not either.

The difference? The other animals and plants are to the extent they serve us. Humans are valuable in themselves.

Most of this world, like most of our genomeplex, has no inherent value. But humans do. And radically, all humans are equally precious.

Categorization and the Nature of Science

Does the Core and the Gap exist? That is, does a generally well-off realm known as the Functioning Core contain goods associated with globalization (wealth, peace, etc), while a realm known as the Non-Integrating Gap lack these goods?

Mountainrunner, surprisingly, appears to say the answer is no. While he does not say so directly, he notes that (in general) anything that exists in the Gap exists within the Core, and vice versa. In response to my claim that the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Bhutto is not surprising because it happened in the Gap, Mountainrunner wrote:

My point is this: this is about violence and death and ideology that is not specific to Islamists or the Gap. Heads of state were targeted. The IRA reminded Thatcher they only needed to be lucky once, she needed to be lucky all the time. Italy, Greece, Hungry, etc. Take your pick and you’ll find attacks on leadership.

A similar mistake is made by those who deny the existence of “race,” or often the “generations of warfare:” a misunderstanding about what categories are.

Categories are not Platonic ideals, true forms that are immutable through time and space. Categories allow us to explain variance. That is, a categorization is useful if categories within it correlate with clusters in frequencies of some traits. Consider again the Core and the Gap. There are rich people in the Gap, and poor people in the Core. There are those with IPTV in the Gap, and those without electricity in the core. For that matter, there are gang rapes in Darfur and gang rapes in Dallas.

But the terms “Core” and “Gap” really do explain variation in these things. Don’t believe it? Run the numbers yourself. The same is true with regard to race, and my assumption is that the same is true with regards to the generation of war.

Objecting to the Core/Gap categorization because you can cite assassinations in Core countries is like objecting to the concept of race because you know some East Asians who drink milk. (Because I am unaware of any large dataset on war that’s been used to test xGW theory, sadly we’re still in the realm of mixed methods when it comes to the generations of war.)

The moral of the story: categories explain variation. That does not mean they explain all variation. That does not mean they are supposed to.

Anything else is just… unscientific.

Also on the web: Against xGW, for William Lind? On another aspect of Mountainrunner’s post.

The Los Angeles of Dreams

My dad, my mom, my wife, and I had driven to Los Angeles. But there was a problem with the car, so we took a tour bus of the city.

We had heard that if you try to drive the bus by yourself there would be problems, but a driver was already in the seat. So we waited to start.

I sat in one seat. Across the isle and behind one row, my mom, and wife, and my dad sat. My dad was not wearing his shirt.

My mom quizzed me about the Crusades some. I was able to name the first few but not the last. We checked our answers on our laptops and laughed.

The bus took us around the famous sites of Los Angeles. It was not the real Los Angeles, but the “Los Angeles of Dreams.” The brown barren hills were so high, the half-cloudy skies were so bright and blue, the water that soaked us was so wet.

Sometime I said “I think Fei is scared,” but I heard the words in my dad’s voice. I helped Fei across the aisle and she came to sit with me.

Then I woke up.

About three minutes later I realized it was a dream of my father.

Howard Gardner and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

I’m generally impressed by . In my impressions of Extraordinary Minds and “Multiple intelligences after twenty years,” I noted with pleasure his emphasis on practice and focus in developing expertise.

Howard, his “theory multiple intelligences” is simply outside not just the realm of social science. It’s a theory-centered approach that appears to be allergic to empirical verification or falsification. Gardner has written (in Educational Psychologist 41(4)) that he is not involved in operationalizing his theory because he fears such measures would be “misused,” and (like some other writers I follow) his hype both distracts from and occasionally contradicts his substance.

Now, (courtesy of Intelligent Insights), a PDF or Arthur Jensen‘s reivew of the new book on Gardner.

I agree with Jensen:

Probably many educationists with little interest in acquiring a clear understanding of scientific psychology and psychometrics have uncritically embraced Gardner’s psychology out of desperation. The persistent frustration of the educational system’s dealing realistically with the wide range of scholastic aptitude in the nation’s schools creates a fertile ground for seemingly attractive educational nostrums. Gardner’s invention of the term “multiple intelligences” capitalizes on the high valuation the public accords to the word “intelligence.” The appeal of Gardner’s terminology has been parodied as the Marie Antoinette theory of schooling: if the people have no bread, let them eat cake.

“Multiple Intelligence” theory is useful to the extent that it allows recognition of the fact that people are skilled in different things, practice makes them more skilled, and specialization is good. M.I. theory is dangerous to the extent it prevents those who need intensive education the most (those with low general intelligence) from getting it, out of a misguided notion they are “differently” intelligent, and also to the extent that its generally anti-scientific worldview gets accepted by educators.

Quality of Service and the Monopoly of Violence

First, some agitation-propaganda relating to the idea that the police are there to protect you:

Caged behind a deep moat and six-metre walls but tiger escaped to kill zoo visitor

Police were called to the zoo early yesterday after the animal, a four-year-old female Siberian tiger named Tatiana, went missing from her pen. Four officers came across the body of the dead man, who is thought to have been in his 20s, in the darkness outside the tiger’s enclosure. Three hundred yards away, they spotted another man slumped on the ground outside the zoo’s cafe, with blood pouring from gashes in his head. Beside him sat the tiger.

When the animal resumed its attack on the man, the officers crept closer. Their movement caught the tiger’s eye, and she began to move towards them. All four officers opened fire with their handguns, hitting the cat several times and killing it. It was then that they noticed a third man had been mauled.

Police see a wild beast attack a human. They watch the beast. Police see a wild beast move towards them. They kill the beast.

Now, of course wild beast attacks are relatively rare (as opposed to wild human attacks, which are depressingly common). However the broader point remains: the police (just like everyone else) love their family, their jobs, and themselves more than they love you.

In the case of the San Francisco zoo horror, making sure they would not get in trouble for destroying lie property mattered more than preventing possibly fatal injury to a would-be tiger-snack. But similar QOS (quality of service) problems happens in any market where there is one major service provider.

Thus, I have trouble imagining why people who talk about a “monopoly of violence” think what they do. The idea is inherently anti-American, a rejection on the P2P security network enshrined by the 2nd amendment.

Secure neighborhoods are armed neighborhoods. Many of those who speak of a “monopoly of violence” are wealthy enough to live in the petite bourgeois neighborhoods that the police were raised to protect. Good for them. But for those who do not live in such neighborhoods — either because they are too poor, or unfortunate, or because the police administration of their neighborhood is run by leftists, a security provider other than the monopoly is needed.

That’s why you need a 2nd Amendment. And that’s why a “monopoly of violence” is as dangerous as a tiger on the loose.

Uppity Muslim Woman Killed (Someone is surprised)

Robert Paterson thinks all is lost — we’re on the brink checkmated. (Zen has a more balanced summary.)

The cause of this suspicious death of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who suffered bomb blasts and bullets. There’s now a riot, possibly martial law, blah blah blah.

My question: Why is anyone surprised this happens in a Muslims country?

Broadly, most of the world “works.” Aside from troublesome campesinos near the Andes and racist Pacific Islanders, if you are not in the continuous geographical Gap that stretches from the Cape of Good Hope to frontier of Russia, things are going pretty good for you. The chances of you becoming the victim of a suicide bomber, a mass rape, or good ol’ fashioned genocide are remarkably small. Regularly there’s really bad news from the Gap, such as a camapign of rape fully understandable by our chimpanzee ancestors or today’s assassination of a talkative woman, but really, it doesn’t effect our lives.


So, what next?

The Gap is actually composed of two distinct regions, an Islamic Gap in the later stages of civilizational collapse and an African Gap that never progressed far enough to collapse in the first place. We do not know how to pull off large-scale social engineering, but we do know that most of our attempts to do so have failed. So firewalling ourselves off from the Islamic Gap, doing what needs to be done while strictly limiting human migration from the Islamic Gap to the globalized core, is the best policy. Likewise, we should move away from what Muslim allies we have, as seen in American and Chinese movements away from Pakistan and toward India.

The African Gap, by contrast, needs large-scale engagement. A complete lack of inftrascuture means major opportunities — both for profit and for power — for those able to impose such an infrastructure.

Lack of working memory to be the curse of 2008?

My application of the OODA loop to educational psychology has been centering on “working memory” (in other words, “general intelligence” or “attention”). More working memory lets you consciously think about more things at the same time, letting you make better decisions than you could otherwise.

Some tasks require more attention / intelligence / working memory than you have. Where possible, you should rely on your orientation (which you can sometimes tell from your gut- or fingertip- feeling) in those situations. But often you are called on to make decisions in situations where your gut feeling just isn’t good enough — and you can’t pay attention to everything you have to! This is called “cognitive load” or “information overload,” and has been the main application of working memory research in educational psychology.

Thus, I may end up with a trendy paper at the end of all of this, because, as Wired (and Slashdot) notes: information overload has been predicted as the problem of the year in 2008:

“It’s too much information. It’s too many interruptions. It’s too much lost time,” Basex chief analyst Jonathan Spira declared. “It’s always too much of a good thing.”

Information overload isn’t exactly new, but Spira said the problem has grown as technology increases societal expectations for instantaneous response. And more information available, he said, also means more time wasted looking for the right information, whether in an old e-mail or through a search engine.

Hilariously, Wired’s page on information overload is so bad at preserving working memory, I feel dumber just looking at it!:

Attention-thieving page about attention-thieving problems