Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Selfish gene - a treatise on logic building

I read this book "THE SELFISH GENE" by Richard Dawkins - first released in 1976 . An engrossing read.

In the book, The Author proposes that the fundamental level that Darwinian selection takes place is at the gene level. Then he goes on to provide examples that support his views.
Further he ventures into fields that seem anomalous as seen from the individual selection but fir perfectly into the gene selection framework.

For me the most interesting aspect of the book (I am sure the ones with better knowledge of biology can find other things more insightful, so please do keep in mind that its the opinion of an out and out mathematical bent analysis guy) was the fact that he introduced a new concept, applied it from the first principles to begin with - and then gradually built levels of abstraction - individuals and communities. This was done noting the areas the abstraction is likely to fail, and the beauty of all this is that once he has described a situation , one IMMEDIATELY knows if the abstraction level will fail or not.

If anyone ever had the (outrageous) notion that biology cant incorporate logic, I recommend this book greatly. The way the logic is developed, It could well have been a book on practical logic building. Its just that the author was interested in biology that he chose to write on this.

Warning- Chapters 8 and 9 of this book should not be read by kids. I, despite being an adult of 20 - pursuing engineering - felt uneasy while reading those chapters. In these chapters, Dawknis applies his selfish gene concept to humans. And deeply committed to our families, as we are, we find it difficult to digest all that he has to say. His analysis should hold good for uncivilized nomads - but he has not taken into account society and its effects and hence I dont think his analysis hold good in this case.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Overreliance on models

As humans, we tend to have a desire to explain everything. If something does not fit our previous model, we create a new model to fit the new data into it. We need a model to explain everything. We learn, and let our models grow- enriching our knowledge and understanding of the world.

So far, so good. but the centuries of (implicit) model fitting has demeaned our ability to account for completely unforeseen possibilities. As Nassim Taleb puts it in "The black swan", we restrict our views to our imagination. And most people cant imagine things that contrast with the existing model, yet dont have any fundamental reasons for not being true. We often overlook the limitations of the model and believe it to be an accurate representation of the world.

Like the black swan itself, until the black swan was discovered by the Europeans in Australia in 1606, it was believed that swans could only be white. It was then that people realised that there is no limitation in the model of the swans that predicts the existence of white swans only.

We do a lot of implicit model fitting - "this female is pretty"- this indication is generated after the brain takes in sensory data, and fits it to the idol, finds the matching coefficient and produces a result in the form describable to other humans. Likewise, A lion on the look for a prey would glance at the herd of deers and decide to eat one particular deer - he does this after analysing the deer's features and size, and computes the expected benefit - cost . The lion finally will pursue the deer with the largest positive gain. This is again arrived at by implicit model fitting. These models can be created by two methods - by interaction with the surroundings, and through the hard-wiring of the genes. In fact, as I look at it, genes provide only the basic framework for the decisions. All the models are designed to meet the guidelines outlined by the genes. I am not aware of any study that tested an animal's reaction when its newborn was subjected to environmental learning that contrasted with its native learning environment. Maybe any of my readers could help me in this.

But the essential part to be kept in mind while using models are, that well they are models after all. Models are meant to take into account most of the available data and predict the outcome - with a certain degree of accuracy. These CAN NOT predict the future. Once we get used to the idea that our mind uses models (most probably more sophisticated NNs(Neural Networks) than any ANN(Artificial Neural Network) in use today) to predict outcomes, and that models CAN go wrong - then we can be in better control of things.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

US Pizza rocks

Hog Max !!!

Today the three flag bearers of CPP decided to make the owner of US pizza realise the mistake they committed when they offered an all-u-can-eat at just 135 Rs.

Hence we commenced our journey towards Jamnagar city with a purpose. Despite the various obstacles we encountered that threatened to jeopardize our plans, as brave soldiers on a mission- we never even thought of backing off. For starters, it was raining, and I am not too fond of the idea of getting drenched in the rain. But well, good food is worth all the trouble. Then we were without our identity cards and one cant walk past the main gate without showing one's ID card. So we decided to board a bus to leave us just past the main gate.

So on and so forth, we reached US Pizza, in Patel colony No. 6. From the onset, we were determined to lay a long innings. We entered the restaurant at about 3 - 3:15 types and left at 5:10. We started off with some generous helpings of salad. I started with soya..something and Russian salad.Then the next round of honey soaked pasta with raisins. Next came grated carrots with raisins .. pretty much like our very own "gajjar ka halwa".

After the 'starters' we moved on to the main course. One garlic bread. Is this the best garlic bread ever made? No, for we had a similar experience when we were there last week. But it definitely is amongst the best I have tasted.

My roommate had had 13 garlic breads last time he was at the place. So in a not-so-healthy (Its loaded with cheese!) competitive spirit, we I declared my goal for the day- at least 14 garlic breads to be gulped down. Then, egged on partly by my friends and partly by my fondness for round figures(pun unintended), I decided 15 would be a nice number of garlic breads to have. It was a fest like moment when i got there, and I got a pic of the 15Th garlic bread.

In between when we got kind of bored with garlic breads, we ordered for pizza pieces. Cheese pizza was the best of the three for the day. I don't even remember the names of other pizzas.

In the end, when we were all done, I could not stand upright- let alone being able to bend down to tie my shoe lace . The meal I had for lunch would suffice for the next dinner and probably for next morning's breakfast too. (Its 11 in the night and feeling as full as just after a slightly heavier than normal dinner).

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