February 26, 2013

Enhancing Humanity’s Collective Wisdom

Announcement: Student Prize Competition ‘Enhancing Humanity’s Collective Wisdom’ - if you are a student, here is a chance of winning £2,000 by writing a short essay.

Posted by Anders3 at 05:17 PM | Comments (0)

Fragile art

Monument to a debateA while ago I mentioned the interesting issue of how often mathematics papers are wrong. Here is the opposite side of the coin: how often art about mathematics is wrong.

D. Huylebrouck sent me a great article: Belgian town of De Panne blunders with artwork: Unfortunate miscalculation

Basically, the big golden ratio/Fibonacci artwork has an addition error making the numbers wrong. As noted in the article, it is not the only one. I was reminded of the famous sculpture Kryptos outside the CIA that also contains a typo making decryption hard.

The obvious conclusion is that artists don't double-check their artworks.

Normally this is not needed, since all the content exists on some readily accessible surface/physical layer and the implied deeper layers of meaning emerge from that layer using robust human inference. When we see Michelangelo's David we see the marble form, interpret it in terms of human appearance and mythology, and then extrapolate deeper levels based on context. But while the artwork in De Panne can be interpreted this way (golden ratio concrete block, spiral, numbers as a first level, leading to layers of mathematical and art history meaning) the erroneous symbols create an accidental, nearly parasitical meaning: rather than showing the regularity and infinite perfection of mathematics, it now leads the viewer to consider error, confusion and mistakes. Kryptos is even worse: here much of the meaning resides in the existence of a hidden but in principle decipherable layer, and the typo destroys some of the content in that layer.

It is even more obvious in case of informative artworks like commemorative sculptures or memorials: here there is some information layer linked to the real world the sculpture is intended to reveal and perhaps put into a deeper context, but of course that link can be erroneous. These kinds of artwork are fragile in an informational sense: a single letter or number can destroy their symbolism.

Recognizing whether you are working in a fragile domain (a single error can change meaning strongly) or a robust domain (errors merely nudge the final result) is important, whether in science or art.

Posted by Anders3 at 05:05 PM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2013

Updated existential risk and anthropics

The http://existential-risk.org/ website was recently updated. It is a useful resource for papers on thinking about human extinction risks.

Also, http://www.anthropic-principle.com/, Nick's site about the anthropic principle and related to biases, has also been updated.

Posted by Anders3 at 04:50 PM | Comments (0)

February 04, 2013

Don't trust the sleepless

DrinkDon’t stay up and decide: sleep deprivation and the culture of late night summits - inspired by Andreas Cervernka's essay on the problem of decisionmakers deciding in late-night meetings, I blog on Practical Ethics about the problem. It is not a small problem: very big decisions are made by people who are for all practical purposes intoxicated.

The fact that we accept this form of shoddy decisionmaking is troubling. The best way to combat it is likely to make it vivid: next time you see a finance minister or CEO holding a press conference after a late night meeting, envision him standing there drunk with a bottle. Then call them out on making important decisions while impaired.

Posted by Anders3 at 05:50 PM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2013

Love, marriage and ethical neurochemistry

Violent angelsRoss Andersen has an interview in The Atlantic with me, Julian Savulescu and Brian Earp: The Case for Using Drugs to Enhance Our Relationships (and Our Break-Ups). Good timing for Valentines.

Katie Mcdonough at Salon immediately misunderstood us, Take ecstasy, save your relationship It is quite amusing, since that happened the last time our research was widely mentioned. We had to write an explanation: Should you take ecstasy to improve your marriage? Not so fast …

Edit: the post has been corrected (and quickly at that - Kudos, Katie!). It is now Should we medicate parents to prevent divorce? A bit less exciting, but more correct.

Posted by Anders3 at 06:57 PM | Comments (0)