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Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The speed-accuracy trade-off

“Alles wat goed is, komt snel” is a less familiar Dutch saying (eg, AD, Proz, SO). In general, "all what is good, comes quickly" usually refers to new (sports) talent. It could also be about decisions on emotional affairs, like a new friendship or love at first sight. There's no similar English proverb.

There is, however, an English proverb that suggests the exact opposite: "All [good] things come to those who wait". The Dutch version is: “alle goede dingen komen langzaam” (DBNL). I used the word suggest as the underlying meanings are not the same. The 2nd proverb relates more to tangible items while the 1st relates to emotions and/or talents, which are intangible.

The 1st proverb also has an inverse: if something (eg, a decision) doesn’t come quickly then our mind isn’t sure whether it feels good. There’s a conflict between ratio (conscious) and emotion (subconscious). Our common solution is delaying, indecision, postponing, and procrastinating.

Both proverbs relate to the psychological phenomenon of the "speed-accuracy trade-off" (eg, Wiki-1Wiki-2Wiki-3Wiki-4). For an explanation, please read the 2014 Aeon article by Stephen Fleming, Principal Research Associate at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London: "Forget being boldly decisive, let your brain take its time".

In this speed-accuracy trade-off, emotional decisions (eg, friendship, love, talent) are taken in milliseconds, while decisions on buying expensive items may take days (eg, car) or months (eg, house). Hence, both proverbs do not contradict each other.

The mind must make very many decisions on a daily basis. The volume of decisions requires efficiency and effectivity (ie, speed). The impact of any decision requires that the mind must minimise negative consequences, like regret (ie, accuracy). The trade-off is the mathematical function between speed and accuracy (eg, curve, graph, line).

In this day and age, the speed-accuracy trade-off is under pressure. Aeon-2014: “Whether lingering too long over the menu at a restaurant, or abrupt U-turns by politicians, flip-flopping does not have a good reputation. By contrast, quick, decisive responses are associated with competency: they command respect. Acting on gut feelings without agonising over alternative courses of action has been given scientific credibility by popular books []”.

Aeon-2014: “Crucially, however, this neural flip-flopping is not something to be avoided. Instead, flip-flopping is an overt behavioural sign of the brain’s weighing of evidence for and against a decision. [] The speed-accuracy trade-off indicates that there can be negative consequences from being too decisive. Quicker decisions are often associated with more errors and greater potential for regret further down the line.”

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.” A quote by William James (1842-1910), American philosopher and psychologist.

Your Decision (2009) by Alice in Chains - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Monday, 23 April 2018

Multivitamins are not only ineffective, but dangerous (Big Think)

"For many years, when my doctor would ask what vitamins or supplements I consume on a regular basis, I would reply by saying "a multivitamin." Never once in all those years did she (or he; I’ve bounced around a bit) ask what type of vitamins were included in the cocktail. No question of percentages, minerals, vitamins—just a head nod and a mouse click.

A few years ago I stopped saying "multivitamin" because I stopped taking one, and he (or she) never asked why, recommended advice, anything. They simply unchecked the box.

For more than half of Americans—68 percent of adults over age 65—a multivitamin (among a few, or many, supplements) is part of the daily ritual. Overloading your body with five or ten times the recommended daily allowance of this or that vitamin is treated as folk wisdom. It’s such basic science that questioning it seems like a complete waste of a thought.

Problem is, the National Institute of Health spent $2.4 billion studying vitamins and supplements only to find out they really don’t work. As Pieter A. Cohen writes in JAMA: "During the past 2 decades, a steady stream of high-quality studies evaluating dietary supplements has yielded predominantly disappointing results about potential health benefits, whereas evidence of harm has continued to accumulate."

This includes clinical trials showing that vitamin E, once promoted as heart healthy, actually increases your risk of heart failure and prostate cancer. Multivitamins do not prevent cancer and heart disease; St John’s wort will do nothing for your depression; Echinacea is no match for the common cold. In smokers, beta-carotene increases the risk of lung cancer.

A large part of the problem is how comfortable we are swallowing pills with no understanding of what they contain. Whenever we feel slightly off we immediately imagine the pill that will alleviate the distress. Pain, however, is a sign that something is wrong. Ignoring the signal doesn’t solve the problem, it only prolongs the agony.

Since multivitamins have predominantly been marketed as healthy or, at the furthest end of the spectrum, benign, we’ve overlooked the fact that many are, in the long run, damaging. No vitamin or mineral is without effect. Because we don’t exactly understand how these pills operate should not mean we want to pop as many of them as possible.

Cohen points out that while vitamin and supplement bottles must include the standard “not evaluated by the FDA” jargon, most eyes pass right over the small print, instead focusing on unproven health claims scripted in bold, bright letters.

This has caused a number of researchers to remind us that we get all the vitamins we need on our plates. Even those eating a “Western” diet— which is the culprit of America’s obesity epidemic—achieve the basic requirements our bodies require. There is simply no proven track record showing that the isolation of certain vitamins from the foods that contain them is beneficial.

This is not to say some people don't require certain vitamins or minerals for a variety of issues. That's a different case from overloading your body with a flood of them hoping something works.

As Marjorie McCullough, strategic director of nutritional epidemiology for the American Cancer Society, is paraphrased in the NY Times: "It’s possible that the chemicals in the fruits and vegetables on your plate work together in ways that scientists don’t fully understand—and which can’t be replicated in a tablet."

Physician Paul Offit agrees. In study after study Offit shows that cancer and heart disease rates increase with the consumption of vitamins and supplements. A few examples:
  • A 1996 study in Seattle of 18,000 people showed that people exposed to asbestos who were taking megavitamins with large doses of vitamin A and beta-carotene were 28 percent more at risk of developing lung cancer and 17 percent more at risk for developing heart disease. 
  • A 2004 study in Copenhagen conducted 14 randomized trials with 170,000 people and discovered that those taking large amounts of vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene were more likely to develop intestinal cancer. 
  • A 2005 study at John Hopkins School of Medicine performed a meta-analysis of 19 studies with over 136,000 people. Those taking megavitamins were at an increased risk of early death. 
  • Another 2005 study of 9,000 people published in JAMA found increased risks of cancer and heart disease in those taking large doses of vitamin E. 
  • A 2011 study at the Cleveland Clinic involving 36,000 men found a 17 percent increased risk of prostate cancer in those consuming vitamin E and/or selenium.
Regarding the antioxidant craze—and certain levels of them are healthy—Offit notes that oxidation is required to “kill new cancer cells and clear clogged arteries.” Overloading on antioxidants reduces your body’s ability to do this.

Fruits and vegetables contain many other ingredients that appear to, as McCullough mentions above, boost the efficacy of vitamins. Offit continues: "Half of an apple has the antioxidant activity of 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C, even though it contains only 5.7 milligrams of the vitamin. That’s because the phytochemicals that surround vitamin C in apples enhance its effect."

American regulatory bodies have been too lax in their policing of vitamin and supplement manufacturers. Many are either blatantly lying or ignorant of the science behind the products they’re selling. The dietary supplement industry raked in over $32 billion in 2012, most of which profited from junk science, or at best, unproven claims. That’s great business for those companies. Unfortunately, it’s terrible for us."


Sunday, 22 April 2018

Lazy Sunday (Afternoon)

Lazy Sunday (Afternoon) (1968) by the Small Faces - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Wouldn't it be nice to get on wiv me neighbours( da da da do)
But they make it very clear they've got no room for ravers

They stop me from groovin', they bang on me wall
They're doin' me crust in it's no good at all

Lazy sunday afternoon, I've got no mind to worry, close my eyes and
Drift away, Close my eyes and drift away

Here we all are sittin' in a rainbow(da da da do)
Gor blimey hello missus Jones hows your old Bert's lumbago?
He mustn't grumble, Tweedle dee bite
I'll sing you a song with no words and no tune
Tweedle dee bite
I'll sing at your party while you souse out the moon, oh yeah

Lazy Sunday afternoon, I got no mind to worry
Close my eyes and drift away, Close my eyes and drift away
Close my eyes and drift away

Aroo de de de do
Aroo de de de dido

Theres no one to see me theres nothin' to say
And no one can stop me from feelin' this way

Lazy Sunday afternoon I've got no mind to worry
Close my eyes and drift away
Close my eyes and drift away
Close my eyes and drift away

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Money as a Belief system - an example

FT title: Sudden loss of wealth raises risk of earlier death, study shows

"People who rapidly lost 75% of assets found to be 50% more likely to die within 20 years"

"People who suddenly lose most of their wealth die significantly younger than those who hang on to their assets, according to a large US study relating health to financial changes during middle and old age.

Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Michigan reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that people who lose three-quarters or more of their total wealth within a two-year period are 50 per cent more likely to die in the next 20 years.

This rise in mortality risk “is similar to the increase associated with a new diagnosis of coronary heart disease”, said Alan Garber, professor of health policy at Harvard University.

“We found losing your life savings has a profound effect on a person’s long-term health,” said Lindsay Pool of Northwestern, the study’s lead author. “The most surprising finding was that having wealth and losing it is almost as bad for your life expectancy as never having wealth.”

There is a large body of evidence showing poorer people suffer more illness and die younger than their richer counterparts. But little was previously known about the long-term health consequences of what the researchers call “negative wealth shocks”, such as a sharp fall in value of a home or investment portfolio or a business failure.

They analysed data from 8,700 participants in the US National Institute on Ageing health and retirement study. This follows the health and financial circumstances of a representative group of Americans aged between 51 and 61 when the project started in 1992.

As far as possible the authors excluded factors likely to trigger a sudden loss of wealth, such as pre-existing illness, loss of employment or marital disruption, in order to isolate the health impact of the wealth shock itself.

The likely causes of the increased death risk fall into two categories. One is the direct health impact of rapid impoverishment, such as increasing stress hormone levels, loss of psychological balance, and excessive drinking and other substance abuse. The other, particularly applicable under the US healthcare system, is no longer being able to pay for adequate medical treatment.

“These people suffer a mental health toll because of the financial loss as well as pulling back from medical care because they can’t afford it,” said Dr Pool.

Doctors need to be sensitive to patients’ financial circumstances, she added: “It’s something they need to ask about, to understand if their patients may be at an increased health risk.”

The researchers will now investigate the mechanisms that can turn a big financial loss into a killer, asking “why are people dying, and can we intervene at some point in a way that might reverse the course of that increased risk”, Dr Pool said."


Friday, 20 April 2018

La Casa de Papel

I have waited writing this review until the very last episode of season 2 of La Casa de Papel a.k.a. Money Heist (#8.8 in IMDb). I just couldn’t imagine that this Netflix series would not ultimately disappoint. It did not. La Casa de Papel might be one of the best TV series ever. This week Netflix announced that the worldwide success of this series warrants a new season 3.

Initially, I ignored this series based upon its description. It seemed just another crime story. I was sold after having watched episode 1. The filming is rather slow and sucks you into the captivating story of a bank heist on the Spanish Royal Mint, where they print Euro bills.

The object of the heist (ie, the Mint) allows for philosophical arguments whether its theft or not: nothing existing will be stolen. The heist also allows for political arguments on the bailout of European banks by the European Central Bank (ECB) through printing new money. The heist is most of all about the psychological cat-and-mouse game between the police and the “thieves”.

There is a resemblance with one of the best crime movies ever: Heat (1995, IMDb). Both main characters are experts in meticulous planning of their jobs and also denounce violence. The psychological warfare between Al Pacino (police) and Robert De Niro (thief) in Heat, resembles the fight between the Professor and the female Spanish police inspector.

There’s also a resemblance with another superb heist-like movie: The Thomas Crown Affair (1999, IMDb). This resemblance is about the romantic interest between Pierce Brosnan (gentleman thief) and Rene Russo (insurance detective).

La Casa de Papel does not decide who is bad and good. Characters on both sides are bad and good. My empathy was shifting according to the hourly developments in the heist (eg, betrayal, treatment of hostages). My empathy towards the Mint director was shifting many times. That’s a remarkable accomplishment. Characters are clearly not 1-dimensional.

The meticulous planning of the heist does not take into account human relationships, like in real life. They do, however, develop and threaten the Professor's plan. The Stockholm syndrome creates additional relationships between thieves and hostages.

Similar to the movie Heat, the tv series La Casa de Papel is not about gun violence, despite the incidental shootings and the Heat like finale. The sympathy of the Spanish population for the thieves is crucial in their plan; violence is not. This ingredient is also part of their political views: losers against winners.

Until the end of season 2, the Professor remains a mystery (eg, fragile youth, martial arts, meticulous planning, Russian language, Serbian comrades). Season 3 might explain who the Professor really is. La Casa de Papel is extraordinary good and a must-see.

My Life Is Going On (2017) by Cecilia Krull - OST La Casa de Papel (lyricsvideo)

Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Thursday, 19 April 2018

IMF sounds alarm on excessive global borrowing (FT)

"The IMF on Wednesday sounded the alarm on excessive global borrowing, warning that with a total of $164tn owed, the world’s public and private sectors are deeper in debt than at the height of the financial crisis a decade ago.

Global debt is now more than twice the size of the value of goods and services produced every year and at 225 per cent of global gross domestic product, it is now 12 percentage points higher than at its previous peak in 2009.

The fund said there was now an urgent need to reduce the burden of debt in both the private and public sectors to improve the resilience of the global economy and provide greater firefighting capability if things went wrong.

“Fiscal stimulus to support demand is no longer the priority,” the IMF said in its latest Fiscal Monitor, one of the reports published at its Spring meetings in Washington.

Half of the $164tr global public and private sector debt is accounted for by three countries: the US, Japan and China. The latter, where debt surged from $1.7tr in 2001 to $25.5tr in 2016, was described as the “driving force” behind the increase in global debts, accounting for three-quarters of the rise in private sector debt in the past decade.

Vitor Gaspar, director of fiscal affairs at the IMF, singled out the US for criticism, saying it was the only advanced country that was not planning to have a falling burden of debt because tax cuts would keep public borrowing high.

“We urge policymakers to avoid pro-cyclical policy actions that provide unnecessary stimulus when economic activity is already pacing up,” he said.

The fund was concerned that private sector debts make the global economy more vulnerable to a new financial crisis started by “an abrupt deleveraging process” where borrowers all tighten their belts simultaneously, sending the economy into a nosedive.

“In the event of a financial crisis, a weak fiscal position increases the depth and duration of the ensuing recession, as the ability to conduct countercyclical fiscal policy is significantly curtailed,” the fund said.

With the global economy growing strongly, it recommended countries stop using lower taxes or higher public spending to stimulate growth and instead try to reduce the burden of public sector debts so that countries have more leeway to act in the next recession.

The IMF singled out the Trump administration’s tax cuts for criticism, since they left the US with a deficit of 5 per cent of national income into the medium term and a persistently rising level of debt in GDP.

“In the United States . . . fiscal policy should be recalibrated to ensure that the government debt-to-GDP ratio declines over the medium term. This should be achieved by mobilising higher revenues and gradually curbing public spending dynamics, while shifting its composition toward much-needed infrastructure investment.”

There is no sign that the Trump administration has any intention of increasing taxes as the IMF recommends and, instead, hopes that faster growth will supply the necessary revenues, something the fund and the US fiscal watchdog thinks is highly unlikely.

The debt problem is not limited to advanced economies, with middle-income countries racking up borrowing higher than that which led to the debt crises of the 1980s.

The IMF recommended that countries raise taxes and lower public spending to decrease annual borrowing and get the burden of debt on a firmly downward path now that there is no need for fiscal stimulus.

The few exceptions to that advice included Germany and the Netherlands, which the IMF said had “ample fiscal space” to boost public investment in infrastructure and enhance the long-term resilience of their economies."


Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Convergent evolution, humanoid sapiens & the Singularity

There are 2 views on evolution, either random chance or convergent evolution. Please also see my 2015 blog: the AND/OR dilemma. I typically believe in AND, not in OR. The combination of random chance within convergent evolution may bring some surprises, while the general blueprint of Life remains intact. Also see my 2018 blog: history and nature always repeat itself.

It’s difficult to understand how random chance would ever result in (balanced) ecosystems. It would rather cause chaos and unpredictabilityWiki: “Chaos theory is [] focusing on the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. [] Small differences in initial conditions [] yield widely diverging outcomes for such dynamical systems, rendering long-term prediction of their behavior impossible in general.”

Earth’s evolution did see mass extinction events which, however, resulted in more diversity and also smaller organisms. Somehow, there should be a link with plate tectonics, continental drift and break-ups (eg, Pangea), island biogeography and island gigantism.

The convergent evolution hypothesis is gaining ground as there seems to be a blueprint in Nature, geared towards intelligent life (my 2018 blog). Analysis of genetic mutations reveal that genetic mutations keep coming back in Earth’s evolutionary history (the Conversation). Flying (birds), swimming (fish), and walking (mammals) are examples of this convergent evolution.

It’s tempting to view humans and their use of technology as a next stage in this convergent evolution. In 2005, Ray Kurzweil wrote his book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. It's about the synthesis of humans and technology. Examples: prosthetic limbs, powered exoskeletons, augmented reality glasses, 3D organ printing, soft robotics.

Transhumanism is the "international intellectual movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellect and physiology". Please also see my blogs on Transhumanism.

Without technology, all species are doomed to fail in evolution. This is also called the Great Filter hypothesis (my 2017 blog). The Singularity is probably the only way for humans to escape this planet and to become a species unrestricted by its home planet. It’s not a farfetched thought that such an escape may actually be an integral part of convergent evolution.

In other words, the convergent evolution of homo sapiens may also bring us the (Technological) Singularity in which man and machine become singular - a.k.a. humanoid sapiens.

Man is to technology what the bee is to the flower. It’s man’s intervention that allows technology to expand and evolve itself and in return, technology offers man convenience, wealth and the lessening burden of physical labor via its automated systems.” A quote by James Scott.

Singularity (2014) by New Order - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise