Rico Penguin

/Rico Penguin

About Rico Penguin

Rico is an associate producer at Gamblit Games. He makes prototypes, writes stories, and occasionally vanishes off the face of the Earth.

The Human Body – A Collaborative Project

  Today is more of a thought experiment than anything else. I just felt it would be interesting to discuss the human body. Whenever we think of ourselves generally we see ourselves as singular beings, metaphysics aside, generally you look at a person and say “Them” or something of that nature. However in actuality your body is one huge collaborative project, a collection of somewhere between 50 and 100 trillion cells. Each working (hopefully) in symbiosis with all the other cells around it. Even our cells are made up of smaller matter that at one point or another decided (I say that jokingly) that it would hang out with the other matter that now make up the cells.

  As I said in the last post when I look at people I tend to think of Jelly fish. Now I know some people might be wondering why, is it because people seem to enjoy outbursts of possibly fatal nature whenever they come into contact with other organisms (mean-world hypothesis ;D), is it because we react most noticeably to the simplest of stimuli, or is it the outside appearance of no actual brain articulating our movements and survival? While all three of these might be fun possible answers it ties in more with what a Jelly fish is. If my memory serves me correctly, be it from animal planet or one of the numerous books that have found their way into my hands over the years, jelly fish are not necessarily one animal. They have collections of other animals on them, now not to say that hamsters are chilling inside the dome of a jelly fish, but very small organisms use these miraculous organisms as a shelter or sorts. In at least one case a jelly fish uses plants to generate nourishment from photo synthesis, in effect what looks like a single organism is in actuality a colony of wonderfully coexisting organisms, albeit its a killing machine, but it’s a beautiful one.

  Humans come off to me as much of the same. Our brains aren’t single chunks of matter but collaborative projects of some 100 billion neurons (I don’t think anyone’s ever actually counted, it’s an estimate) each working in kind with its surrounding neurons to create a very efficient command center. It pays to note that while each part of the human works in conjunction with the parts around it it’s not always a safe one, when blood enters the brain it causes severe damage because it causes Neurons to basically fill with an element, I want to say NA (salt) but I don’t recall exactly, until the cells burst. Likewise when a neuron bursts it has a chance of killing the neurons around it which can have dire consequences to the human. It’s one of the many reasons I don’t think humans are ‘intelligently designed’ anyone who designs a cell that receives nourishment from another cell that if they come into contact will obliterate one or both is silly and hardly intelligent. It’s why I don’t try to use electro magnetic coils to power my PC, I like everything functioning.

  But when we get down to it, the human body is this amazingly convincing collection of microscopic matter. While there is remarkably little in between certain organs who do well with their fluids, and other parts of the body that would fall apart if that fluid contacted them, it does seem to function properly more often than not (wouldn’t have billions of people if it didn’t). It pays to remember that whenever we do things we aren’t just deciding wether we as a collection of thoughts and actions survive, but every single cell in our being. In a sort of odd sense every time a person dies a form of genocide has unraveled, where trillions of organisms die off in a matter of hours (or days if the weather is just right). So as with the Jellyfish, what looks like a single organism, is actually a colony of wonderfully coexisting organisms, albeit its a killing machine, but it’s a beautiful one.

  Who knows, maybe the next time you see a guy on the bus talking to himself he’s really just trying to give his cells a pep talk. I’ve read that sound can stimulate the growth of a plant, if that happens to actually be true, perhaps sound makes your cells all giddy in some manner or another. But don’t ask me to bank on that hypothesis because I’d rather not go down in flames like a US Corporation :). (Oooh political burn)

By | 2009-02-17T14:45:47+00:00 February 17th, 2009|Journal|Comments Off on The Human Body – A Collaborative Project

Hindsight Bias, Everyone knew this would happen.

Another remarkable aspect of cognitive faculties is their ability to convince us that we are certain of something that in reality was (or may still be) incredibly uncertain. This phenomenal effect is so convincing that in many cases we are absolutely positively sure that it isn’t happening. We just know that what we think now isn’t an illusion or manipulated by outside sources, we tend to forget that if our brain is tricked we are going to be unaware that it was. One particular form of these biases that can have a remarkable impact on our lives, especially debates of previous events, is the Hindsight Bias. To use my favorite resource for quick and dirty information Hindsight Bias is defined as follows:

Hindsight bias is the inclination to see events that have occurred as more predictable than they in fact were before they took place. Hindsight bias has been demonstrated experimentally in a variety of settings, including politics, games and medicine. In psychological experiments of hindsight bias, subjects also tend to remember their predictions of future events as having been stronger than they actually were, in those cases where those predictions turn out correct.

One explanation of the bias is the availability heuristic: the event that did occur is more salient in one’s mind than the possible outcomes that did not.

– Wikipedia

One of my favorite lines that is formed from this bias is that of “Oh man I should have seen that coming.” A person has an event that was no more likely than a another event transpire (or the difference is negligible) and yet they feel in retrospect (aka hindsight) that it was blatantly obvious that event would have transpired. When watching a horror movie we scold people who have died for not thinking about the obvious nature of their situation even though there could have been a multitude of ways it would have ended. It just so happens that the way it does end is the way that comes most strongly to the mind in hindsight.

This seems like a reasonable way to examine the past as well, events that have occurred in the past have proven that it is possible that they occur (obviously). Causally this gives them priority over ‘possible’ events that have not yet transpired. Why fear what has never been when you can much easier fear what has and at least prepare for its next occurrence (rhetorical).

Hindsight bias is also one of the many crippling tools in gambling. When playing a game where there is always the same chance of winning to losing people will feel that after X loses they are bound to win. A game as simple as ‘heads or tails’ could have people sitting around for hours waiting for a half dozen heads in a row to place 20 million dollars on tails. The remarkable thing is that regardless of what ends up happening they’ll respond with a relatively similar answer. “I knew that was going to happen.” If it is tails then they’ll probably say it in a much happier fashion and perhaps try the gamble again an hour later and lose it all, at which time they’ll respond similar to how they would have had it been 7 heads in a row the first time. “Damn. It obviously favors heads.” It’s powerful because much like confirmation bias we ignore the possibility of a contradictory outcome. We (usually) do not actively search for information to contradict what we believe is the likely (or perhaps only) outcome to a situation, to do so is to open up a can of worms, to possibly spark high levels of skepticism in all facets of life.

It’s much easier in the end to simply assume that all past events were obviously going to happen. However it is important to stress that just because this wonderful little quirk exists we should not assume that nothing is likely. If you leap from a 50 story building there is a near certainty that without aid you will die, if you light yourself afire and jump into a pool full of gasoline you will likely not survive, if you date a super model and are hoping for a thoughtful relationship you…alright that last one might of been a bit mean.

To defeat (or at least weaken) this effect it pays to (when possible) examine all possible outcomes of an event, there is no obvious result of a coin toss (specifically either side compared to its opposite) and there is no certain result to the roll of a die (cheating aside). It is important that we recognize these biases exist and try our best to not be overcome by them, otherwise we end up being terrible journalists, economists, historians, or basically any profession that involves interaction with other people or worse still positions of influence. As I’ve told my girlfriend, the brain is a whore for stimulation. We as the unusually quirky software must make sure that our hardware doesn’t go off and get us killed for its own jolts of yum yums.

That last bit inspired me, I think tomorrows discussion will be on the unusual nature of our construction (or I think I should say architecture). Humans remind me a bunch of jelly fish…or really any other living organism, but I’ll save this train of thought for tomorrow.

PS. For those that didn’t catch it, Jamie Berger himself commented on my DRM post a while back. You can find his comments here. I appreciate all input and his was no exception :).

By | 2009-02-16T20:04:44+00:00 February 16th, 2009|Journal|Comments Off on Hindsight Bias, Everyone knew this would happen.

Confirmation Bias – The Silent Killer

  I’ve seen the phrase “The Silent Killer” multiple times in the last week or so and figured it would be a catchy tag phrase for the discussion of Confirmation Bias. For those visiting that don’t know bluntly what this is it is defined as follows:

In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions and to avoid information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs. It is a type of cognitive bias and represents an error of inductive inference, or as a form of selection bias toward confirmation of the hypothesis under study or disconfirmation of an alternative hypothesis.

Confirmation bias is of interest in the teaching of critical thinking, as the skill is misused if rigorous critical scrutiny is applied only to evidence challenging a preconceived idea but not to evidence supporting it.[1]

– Wikipedia

  I couldn’t have said it better myself so I didn’t (obviously). This does feel like a natural adaptation used to help alleviate the fear of the unknown. Recently I discussed the phenomena of Experimental Neurosis and forgot to mention something very important (I think). Namely the more difficult it is to differentiate the worse the condition can, and usually will, be. When presented with a situation in which you have absolutely no dissertation of options, namely the complete unknown, you will find the Neurotic responses to be at the utmost extreme. This is in part why animals fear the dark, the brain cannot decipher wether or not the situation is positive or negative, wether it will return them with a appetitive or aversive stimuli. For any organism hoping to further its genetic code not knowing these bits of information is never helpful.

  Now this is where I feel Confirmation Bias (at least in part) comes into play. When presented with a piece of knowledge that the organism has basically affirmed as completely true (namely there is no case where it is untrue) they will work exceedingly hard to make certain that the information taken in confirms these beliefs. Once you question something that is held as certainty, it starts a snowball effect of what else might be untrue, this creates a massive list of unknowns and for some people (and I’m sure higher level organisms like Dolphins and Apes) can be a crippling incident. To avoid this possible crash and further the life span (and subsequently the chance to reproduce) the organism merely omits or manipulates information that contradicts its beliefs in order to further them and continue on a consistent and unchallenged life (albeit erroneous).

  There are some interesting places where Confirmation Bias is most evident (at least from my experiences). The mean-world hypothesis is in short a theory that all people are naturally violent or otherwise mean by nature. This is supported by evidence in the news that talks about rapes, murders, and robberies. However a person believing this hypothesis would (and does if my behavioral neuroscience book was being honest) show very little stimulation from news reports about a little girl riding a pony for the fair and would be very stimulated by reports of a car jacking. Now we can look at this two ways, in the interest of defeating confirmation bias, one is that possibly they are correct and the reason they are more interested in the car jacking is their natural predisposition to violence, or one could argue that because they believe they should have such a predisposition that their brain automatically omits or limits information intake that contradicts their view of the world.

  Similarly we can look at an Olympic Athlete who believes that God is what makes them win. You will notice in many cases when the Athlete fails they will say something akin to “I have failed” or “My faith wasn’t strong enough.” Whenever they win they’ll say  something like “God helped me win.” or “It was my faith that helped me push through.” I know when I was younger I watched a man who was in multiple Olympic events (swimming if I’m not mistaken) who in one event blamed themselves for not getting the gold and in another thanked God for being there to help them win the gold. I was dumbfounded by God’s tardiness considering the nature of the being.

  When we look at the issue of racism in people one quick instance of confirmation bias comes from the fact that in certain studies they find that when shown a picture of a person and given two buzzers, one for shoot and one for question, when the person see’s someone of a different race they more often hit shoot. It is said by some groups pushing to eliminate racism (a topic for another day I’m sure) that this is obviously examples of how strong racism is in our country. However one could just as well argue, and perhaps even provide much stronger evidence for, the functions of the human brain. Organisms rebuild memories from fragments filling in the blanks as they go, while I don’t remember the process anymore this is why music is so easy to remember, the structure of music makes it extremely difficult (in some cases almost impossible) to put the incorrect fragment in because it screws up the entire rhyme, syllable, and timing scheme (and other musical schemes that I don’t even know about or am misnaming).

  When we look at the case of the ‘shoot the different race’ study we notice that in building a response for someone of a similar race there are far less pieces to put into place. Immediately the organism can skip passed the similarities and move onto response. However in the case of differing races you would not (or I’d think should not) immediately assume anything about it, a shaved gorilla with good posture could very well be standing in front of you, your response to something that can crush you in its incredibly powerful arms would be far different than a fellow human being. Likewise there is a very small window when dealing with a suspect who is holding something, making the wrong judgement or a judgement that is too slow is what gets officers killed (well…the criminal helps quite a bit).

  Now I am not one to say which is the truest of situations, however I will say this. There are studies that show that infants up to a certain point can differentiate between the faces of basically any animal with pretty good accuracy. Where we might in our adult life see the same monkey in two pictures they’ll know that they are two different monkeys. Our brains however begin to specialize and optimize processes so that at a certain point we can much quicker than an infant differentiate between two human faces but lose the ability to do so to the chimps. It is this specialization that might play a strong part in the issue of race. It may be the natural inclination of the brain to not only specialize humans but also certain races (likely the particular organisms race).

  The most enjoyable thing about writing about Confirmation Bias is that at any point you can chalk up a point to it. The thing to remember is that it is a very powerful tool and it requires that we always look at all sides of something. I’d say both sides but that is another great problem with examination, humans adore dichotomies and yet so few truly (<– keyword) exist in the natural world. The next time you are discussing with a friend or stranger a topic you strongly believe in, think about how else you could explain your belief it can do nothing but make you a better person I promise.

By | 2009-02-15T18:26:24+00:00 February 15th, 2009|Journal|2 Comments

Happy Valentines Day

  While I feel it’s a little cheap updating with a simple congratulations I feel that holidays should be spent enjoying yourself (and being lazy ;D).

  If nothing else blame the American Spirit, she fights hard for her right to live easy. Or something inspirational like that.

  I’ll try and make tomorrow’s update something entertaining to make up for this ;).

  Happy Valentines Day to All (even the single folks).

By | 2009-02-14T18:22:58+00:00 February 14th, 2009|Journal|2 Comments

The Illusion of Freedom

  There appears to me to be a great bit of confusion when looking into the term of freedom. Something I feel that should be addressed for future discussion. There will be certainly some subjectivity however I hope that it will be treated as objective as it can be ;). I will certainly try my best to keep it as objective as I can (which in itself is somewhat impossible given the conversation).

  freedometer 

   This is a good visual example of what I’m about to explain. Think of the above image as describing the freedom of choice between two options given their outcome (assuming you know it). In particular while I’m not a fan of digging into religious discussions (mainly because it tends to get bitter even if you don’t want it to) but I feel a particular ‘choice’ is very useful for illustrating my point.

  For a choice to be free it must not, in the case of a fully and properly functional organism, contradict the very nature of self preservation. A praying mantis male may sacrifice its own being but it does so in an act to feed it female and to press on the likelihood that it’s seed/genes (and in essence its very being) will pass on. In many cases the actions an organism does that appear to contradict it’s natural inclination for survival are indeed actions that are required for such. Drinking from a stream that has a predator in them is a necessity where the danger of the predator does not outweigh the danger of dying of thirst.

  This is where the image comes into play. It works in a negative correlation (or sorts), the further you move in either direction (to the left towards option A or to the right for option B) the less likely the opposing option becomes. If you enter the red range of the Freedometer you have essentially left the realm of freedom. It’s not necessarily that once you pass 50% you are no longer free in all cases, I’m using the simplest example to help explain my point with the least amount of thought (so you can use your extra resources to expand the concept).

  In essence if you place a gazelle in the situation where it must drink or it will die, the odds of dying while drinking are outweighed, if they were not outweighed it would not do what it does. This is why some animals do indeed starve or dehydrate (I imagine there is a better term) to death, the odds of them being eaten far exceed the odds of them dying at the current moment. It’s a sad state of affairs.

  If you are presented with a ‘simple choice’ one with two outcomes. You either believe in a single an entity, or you spend the eternity damned to a torturous nothingness. You are no longer provided a free choice, you are given an ultimatum. It is a choice only in the most literal of terms, but it is not free. In the case of an ultimatum you are placed in the extreme red zones, a point in which no properly thinking and functioning beings would choose the other option. Whenever you are placed in a position in which one of the options is not an option that the organism would choose it is no longer a choice and the illusion of freedom is the only freedom that is truly present.

  I am not sure if this has made anything more clear, but at the very least I’d hope that the next time someone reads about a ‘free choice’ that they remember the Freedometer and remember that at a certain point even a choice is not a choice.

By | 2009-02-13T19:16:39+00:00 February 13th, 2009|Journal|Comments Off on The Illusion of Freedom