Wednesday, 28 September 2011

On critical thinking

Quantum Ergodicity

People tend to think in dichotomous ways. For example, if you happen to question the efficacy of various sorts of "alternative medicine," people will think you are an advocate of everything that the big pharmaceutical companies advocate. Really, though, those two questions are totally separate. A treatment associated with "alternative medicine" works (or not) because of whether it works, not because it is "alternative" or "natural." A drug developed by a drug company has the effects that it has, the efficacy (or not) that is has, because of what it does, not because of its origin. A scientific theory is valid if it works and produces the predictions it has predicted, not because it is "science."

  The quote above is from Jonathan`s blog called Stupid Motivational Tricks and is an example of a particular philosophical viewpoint called Instrumentalism.

 In the philosophy of science, instrumentalism is the view that a scientific theory is a useful instrument in understanding the world. A concept or theory should be evaluated by how effectively it explains and predicts phenomena, as opposed to how accurately it describes objective reality.
Instrumentalism avoids the realism/ antirealism debate andd may be better characterised as non-realism. Instrumentalism shifts the basis of evaluation away from whether or not phenomena observed actually exist, and towards an analysis of whether the results and evaluation fit with observed phenomena. (Wikipedia)

  The problem is that eventually new data is recorded which either contradicts the theory or lie outside the boundary conditions of the hypothesis. By Jonathan`s measure, Ptolemy's geocentric model of the universe would be ``valid`` since Ptolemy`s Handy Tables could predict the positions of the Sun, Moon and planets, the rising and setting of the stars, and eclipses of the Sun and Moon. The point is not to eviscerate J.`s line of reasoning but to emphasize the consequences of wrong assumptions even though the theory appears to work during a certain period of time. Neo classical economics also relies on Instrumentalism. The former éminence grise of the current flock of economists who got us into this mess was Milton Friedman who was also an Instrumentalist.  In a 1953 paper, he stated:

Truly important and significant hypotheses will be found to have “assumptions” that are wildly inaccurate descriptive representations of reality, and in general, the more significant the theory, the more unrealistic the assumptions. . . . The reason is simple. A hypothesis is important if it “explains” much by little, that is, it abstracts the common and crucial elements from the mass of complex and detailed circumstances surrounding the phenomenon to be explained and permits valid predictions on the basis of them alone. To be important, therefore, a hypothesis must be deceptively false in its assumptions; it takes account of, and accounts for, none of the many other attendant circumstances, since its very success shows them to be irrelevant for the phenomenon to be explained.

To put the point less paradoxically, the relevant question to ask about the “assumptions” of a theory is not whether they are descriptively “realistic,” for they never are, but whether they are sufficiently good approximations for the purpose at hand. And this question can be answered only by seeing whether the theory works, which means whether it yields sufficiently accurate predictions.

  This is a ``get out of jail`` card for such false right wing economic assumptions such as the rational expectations theory which says that people always act rationally using perfect information( i.e they`re omniscient) to maximize their utility so that an equilibrium price for the product in question is reached in which supply perfectly matches demand. This is the basis for the” Efficient market hypothesis” where the current state of the market represents the ideal situation since all information is present in the prices of the market. Spiro Latsis refers to this form of human behaviour as situational determinism where in any particular situation all people make the same choices – humans are an ergodicitic ensemble. If you partition the population into sub populations then the people in each partition will act like the people in each of the other partitions. This is closer to theology than science and definitely not the intuitive understanding of human nature but according to Friedman it doesn’t matter. This is why economists were caught flat footed in the 2008 crisis because according to their mathematical models it couldn’t happen. There was no variable for the massive fraud which was the fundamental business model for the financial sector and fraud is a type of asymmetrical information in which one party knows things that the other party doesn`t which implies imperfect information that according to the efficient market hypothesis and rational expectations theory can`t exist.

  So false assumptions can seriously screw things up eventually although at the time, they appear not to matter – you can use your alternative medicine for quite a while with the appearance of only beneficial effects but wait until your liver has an infection and can`t metabolise the active ingredient at the usual rate or your kidney has an infection and the excretion rate of the active ingredient drops. You could have a serious overdose taking the usual dosage and your alternative medicine man will not be up to the situation.

  Social scientists have a particular problem with expressing critical thoughts since chaos and transition are their equivalent of natural scientist`s controlled experiments. Like Heraclites, it`s hard to describe a moving river when it changes every time you step in it so you use fluff words like ``transgressive`` and liminality to discuss periods of change and cover up the level of perceptual ambiguity on the part of the observer. Free floating, self referential data sets like the Rosenberg self esteem scale with a variety of anchoring schemes using the opinions of experts and semi-experts are the norm. This scale was used in the infamous “debt increases student self esteem” paper which Clarissa and I discussed a while ago. I could make quite a long list of dubious assumptions in this paper which is another instance of Instrumentalism as well as ergodicity where a stochastic system of student outcomes tends in probability to a limiting form which is independent of the initial conditions. (To be continued)

Monday, 26 September 2011

Word on the street festival

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  Last Sunday, I went to the Word on the Street festival which is the largest book and magazine sale in Canada. If you’re looking for rare or out of print books or magazines then you’ll probably find it here at a really good price. Most books with the exception of current best sellers went for under $10 and often for much less. They were in many languages and from a variety of countries as befits a cosmopolitan city like Toronto.
Largest book sale in Canada

 The inaugural festival took place on Sunday, September 30, 1990 which coincided with International Literacy Year and the crowds as well as the variety of vendors have increased every year since the beginning. According to the Toronto Star:
A varied assortment of word-loving groups attended the festival, including the Poets League, the Horror Writers Association (complete with a grave stone RIP-patterned tablecloth), and ChiZine Publications, a publisher of surreal and disturbing fiction. “If we can frighten dogs and children we’re doing our job,” said co-publisher Sandra Kasturi.

Great prices and hard to find books

Rare poetry books

Looking south on Avenue road with book vendor tents

More tents in the park

A stall for every taste

Author readings

Rare magazine stall

Nail your favorite columnist

Any language that you can imagine

Post revolution Cuban books and magazine stall

Running of the Squirrels

Friday, 23 September 2011

A Portrait of the Pre Adult as a Young Man

  There’s a new phase in the developmental stages of men – the Pre Adult. This is an extended period of time between adolescence and adulthood during which males have adult privileges without adult responsibilities. IKEA in Australia has responded to this need by creating a nursery for men modeled on its children’s play area where the adults i.e. women shop while the kids (men) play. The area has free hotdogs, video games, pinball and other things that appeal to the Pre Adult when he leaves his home basement man cave to venture into the wider world. IKEA hopes to roll this Mänland out in North America in the near future after testing the concept in Australia. See the video below for a demonstration where the men certainly see the benefits.

  At least these boys have significant others so they can be categorized as late stage Pre adulthood as opposed to those who can’t even develop a relationship with the opposite sex. This is a new consumer demographic and websites such as Eternal Bachelor have stepped in to market products such as Eternal Bachelor logoed t shirts to this group. Kay Hymowitz, a William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal who has degrees in English literature from Brandeis, Tufts, and Columbia University, in her book, “Manning up: Has the rise of women turned men into boys”, addresses the sources of the new life stage which she identifies as young, educated males between the ages of 21 and 35 who hang out with their bros, read Maxim magazine, watch cable channels, play computer games and worship screen characters as portrayed by Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler.  She certainly doesn’t hold back in her book and in an article published in the Daily Beast says:
Shocked? I wasn’t. During the last few years researching this age group, I’ve stumbled onto a powerful underground current of male bitterness that has nothing to do with outsourcing, the Mancession, or any of the other issues we usually associate with contemporary male discontent. No, this is bitterness from guys who find the young women they might have hoped to hang out with entitled, dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling—and did I mention gold-digging?
  She also says that these aging frat boys don’t have to worry about a lonely midlife because as they get older the pool of potential female partners increases while the pool of desirable men decreases. The drawback is that they’re intimidated by their more highly educated (women make up 58% of college graduates) and higher paid alpha female counterparts. A distinguished columnist at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, those bastions of objective and insightful reporting, she is well regarded as a commentator on childhood, family issues, poverty and cultural change in the States.
   My twenty two year old son who is a member of the North American hikikomori  has played video games like War Craft at night and slept during the day with the occasional food foray for the last five years. He doesn’t seem particularly intimidated by his three alpha female older sisters who graduated summa cum laude or magna cum laude from higher learning institutions and during the occasional appearance from his basement man cave where he keeps his state of the art computer rig as well as his bed seems content. I hope that this developmental stage doesn’t last until he is thirty five.
Son playing computer game

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Polish festival 2011

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Now entering its sixth year, the Roncesvalles Polish Festival brings a unique old-world charm to Roncesvalles Village, well known as one of Toronto’s most vibrant, diverse and creative neighbourhoods. Come and experience everything that Roncesvalles Village has to offer: our rich Polish heritage, our art, music and culture, our fabulous restaurants and unique, trendy shops.
“We are expecting over 200,000 people this year,” said Andrew Chomentowski, Vice Chair of the Roncesvalles Village BIA. “Roncesvalles Avenue is the main street of the coolest neighbourhood in Toronto, home to a huge number of innovative entrepreneurs, merchants, artists, musicians and artisans. During the festival you’ll experience the street’s history and explore its trendy shops and restaurants.” Our festival, which is free, is a great destination for families. Roncesvalles Village is only minutes away from Lake Ontario and High Park. Best of all, it’s easy to get to by TTC. (from festival website)

Polish knight

Lots of chess players on the street

Looking north on the street

High Park toronto

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  When I walked from the Ukrainian festival to the Polish festival on Sunday, I took a detour through High Park which is between the two festivals. I started at the top of the map (north) and walked down the center road to just below the yellow area on the map below and then went east on the path that leads past the park zoo.

High Park map

High Park is a municipal park which spans 161 hectares (400 acres), and is a mixed recreational and natural park, with sporting facilities, cultural facilities, educational facilities, gardens, playgrounds and a zoo. One third of the park remains in a natural state, with a rare oak savannah ecology. High Park was opened to the public in 1876 and is based on a bequest of land from John George Howard to the City of Toronto. It is the largest park entirely within the city. (Wikipedia)
Lake Ontario in the distance looking south

Reflecting pools in the center of the park

Looking west towards Grenadier Pond

Park zoo

Looking east along the zoo path

Children`s play area

Duck Pond on east side of park

Ukrainian festival 2011 (3) dance

Youth group

Ukrainian festival 2011 (2) Food

Grandma`s perogies


Beer garden

My dinner – sauerkraut, schnitzel and red cabbage salad