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Name: Patrick
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States
Birthday: 1/19/1988
Gender: Male

Interests: Friendship, love, writing, psychology, physics, philosophy, ethics, science, photography, art, gaming, technology, computing
Expertise: My skills are primarily in writing, science, and mathematics, though I have a knack for Latin, I'm pretty good at painting and photography, and I'm not atrocious at drawing, singing, or composing. Not much of an athlete, nor do I care to be, though I do try to stay fit and eat right. I'm still working on that whole relationship business. Love is hard to find.
Occupation: Student, Researcher, Author

Message: message meEmail: email me
Website: visit my website

Member Since: 5/3/2005
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Monday, May 13, 2013

#### I've been accepted to California State University at Long Beach!

JDN 2456426 EDT 16:50.

More good news on my adventures in applying to graduate school: Another acceptance! That makes two master's programs I am now accepted to, and means I actually have a decision to make.

I definitely prefer the location Long Beach to New York City; I never was a big fan of Manhattan, really; it's constant noise and motion, and too overstimulating. Long Beach is warm but not hot and sunny most of the time, and while it's certainly still urban it doesn't have the overwhelming frenetics of New York City. Also, rent is considerably cheaper; I could actually live in Long Beach instead of in some tiny apartment in New Jersey commuting to Manhattan every day. The tuition is also considerably cheaper, even with the 30% Draper scholarship factored in. I haven't heard yet what sort of financial offer CSU LB will make, but they could offer me no aid at all and it would still probably cost less than NYU.

Moreover, it's actually an economics program, and I researched it somewhat prior to applying. I still need to visit before I'll be completely sure, but I already knew when I applied what the program would entail. Draper remains something of an enigma for me; NYU is certainly a very good school, but Draper itself is a strange interdisciplinary program that no one I know has ever heard of.

So those are the upsides; now, for the downsides. It's a California State University, which is like a University of California, except not as good. It does not have the reputation of NYU, and it may not afford the same opportunities to interact with professors doing groundbreaking research. It's unclear from what Draper has told me, but I might have enough access to the faculty at NYU in general that I could really move forward in my career.

Long Beach is much further away, which means support from my parents and visits with my boyfriend will be that much harder to arrange (and New York was already difficult enough).

On balance, though, CSU LB does actually seem like a better choice. Even given that CSU isn't as prestigious as NYU, I think that actually having a degree that says "MA in economics" would probably be more impressive to a cognitive economics PhD program than a degree that says "MA in interdisciplinary humanities". Obviously an MA in economics from NYU would be better still, but that's not on the table right now.

That still leaves Johns Hopkins and University College London, both economics MA programs. If I get into one of them, I'll probably go there. (If I get into both, probably Johns Hopkins? I'm not sure about that.) But until I hear from them, CSU LB is seeming like the best choice, and I feel pretty good about that.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

#### My meeting with Jens Zorn did not go very well.

JDN 2456421 EDT 14:11.

He did not give me a counter-offer; more or less he tried to persuade me to stay the course on my current path. And there certainly would be advantages to that, but they are primarily the advantages of inertia; I wouldn't have to deal with changes like finding a new job, dealing with a long-distance relationship, finding housing and health insurance in a new city. (One advantage of London if UCL takes me: health insurance is not a problem!)

He was also fairly critical, in his usual kind way, but still, critical. He said that I didn't get good enough recommenders for my applications, which is something I really can't change. He said that my research proposal seemed "naïve" and didn't contain any "deep ideas", which I really think just means he isn't well-versed enough in how economics is currently done. My work is positively radical, so much so that it's hard to get anyone to listen to me. Humans aren't rational or self-interested? That's positively heresy! (It's also obviously true, but there you go.) Also, I didn't say this, but… with all due respect, why does anyone care about the pion or the kaon? It's not like they come up a lot in daily life. You could say they're the fundamental building-blocks of nature… except they're not, mesons are quark-antiquark pairs, and quarks may be string vibration modes. Which means that pions are closer to fundamental, but neither fundamental nor useful. So… I think I'll go on trying to figure out how we can revolutionize the world economy and end world hunger, thanks. Indeed, one of the things I'm learning from complex systems is perhaps the last thing a particle physicist would ever want to hear: the small components don't really matter. It is not the stuff from which we are made, but the structures and arrangements of that stuff, which defines us. (I don't mean to imply that particle physics is pointless; it certainly does involve some very important and fascinating research. I just wish physicists would get off their high horse and recognize that biology, neuroscience, and economics are not just other names for "applied physics".) Maybe I'm just bitter about the criticism… maybe I need to rethink how I'm presenting my ideas.

He also thought I may have included too much in my diversity essay; it's hard not to read this as code for: "Don't mention you're bi." This may in some sense be good advice, but it's something I've long since committed to not doing. I'm out, completely, always and everywhere. The world will have to catch up. I pay a cost for this, but it is a cost I've chosen to pay. The temporal externalities are apparent; the world is at a tipping point. Speak now or forever hold your peace, for now is the time when the world will change.

Zorn also had a pretty good point when he said that my research proposal might be too specific, it might sound like I won't be flexible enough to do whatever professors want. Yet at the same time, apparently you're not supposed to actually say "I will grovel at your feet and do whatever you say", even though that is actually what they want you to do. It's this bizarre dynamic where they expect you to naturally be enthralled by what they want you to do, such that you are genuinely interested… in acting like a sycophantic servant. There appears to be a total sense of denial of the fact that working as a research assistant is something one does not because one wants to do it, but because it is treated as a necessary step in getting to do what one actually wants to do, which is become a principal investigator and direct their own research. Basically it seems like they want you to lie and say that tabulating data and cleaning out test-tubes is the job you've been called to do your whole life. I can be genuinely interested in things, and I can do whatever you want me to do; but when you ask me to do them both at the same time, it's a problem. I would say that they seem to have forgotten what it's like to be a grad student… but it actually seems worse than that. They've lost all touch with reality. They honestly seem to think that their work is so inherently interesting that anyone who could even have the chance to stand in the same room as it would obviously leap at the chance, even to churn calculations all day for $15 an hour and no health benefits. Your research might be extremely interesting for those who, you know, actually get to put in their ideas, direct the experiments and write the papers; or maybe not even then (really, do you have to give more rats cocaine again?). But some tasks just aren't that exciting, and if you're hiring someone to do them, you should have enough respect for them to admit that they're doing it for income and career advancement, and not to bask in the ambient glow of your genius. When I do finally make it through all these hoops and become a professor, my plan is to say right out to my research assistants: "I know that this isn't the most awesome gig. But someone has to do it, and if you do a good job here I'll gladly help you rise in the ranks until you get to do what you really want to do." And if they submit a really interesting proposal that's way beyond my research interests, I'll say, "Well, I don't think I can help you with this right now. But here's what I am working on, and if you'd like to help with that you certainly can." Is that really so hard? His best counsel seemed to be that I should search for other researchers to work with, at the Institute for Social Research, or the Ford School of Public Policy, or in the Complex Systems program. And I will look for such things, but I'm really not sure what I'll find. If the goal is to build a working relationship that I can spin off into future research or recommendation letters… well, that sounds like it would take a very long time, and I'm not sure I want to continue living in Ann Arbor that long. I like Ann Arbor, but I've lived here all my life; I need a new environment, something to give me a new perspective, a change of pace. I still have mixed feelings about Draper though; when I looked through the course list, I found only 5 classes that seem relevant to my research path the first semester. That's not programs; that's classes. Of course there are also a lot of independent studies and I'd mostly be focused on research anyway… but still, only five taught classes that are at all relevant? And even those are not perfect fits, just close enough. (I did find about 10 more the second semester though, that's something.) This seems to be the problem: To get impressive credentials, you must get into a prestigious school. But to get into a prestigious school, you must have impressive credentials. I'm honestly not sure how some people break through this paradox… it seems like an obviously unfair system, really. When an idiot like Niall Ferguson can teach at Harvard and a pseudoscientist like Michael Behe can get a PhD from Berkeley, but hundreds of far smarter, more dedicated students can't… it's hard not to see the whole system as rigged somehow. Tuesday, May 07, 2013 #### I have been accepted to the Draper Interdisciplinary Master's Program at NYU. JDN 2456420 EDT 18:04. This is the first graduate program to accept me at all; after being rejected from PhD programs at Stanford, Berkeley, and MIT twice, also rejected from PhD programs at UC Santa Barbara and Carnegie Mellon, and even rejected from a different MA program at NYU, I was at last invited to apply, applied, and was rapidly accepted to the Draper program. They originally gave me two weeks to apply (a week ago), but I have requested and received an extension so that I will have time to visit the campus, address some of my concerns, and hopefully hear back from MA programs at Johns Hopkins and University College London. On the one hand, I am thrilled to finally be moving forward in my academic career, and the interdisciplinary nature of the Draper program means that I would most likely be given enough flexibility to work on just about anything I want, including cognitive economics experiments and possibly even The Science of Morality. On the other hand, it's a huge transition in my life, and especially when I thought I only had two weeks to decide, it was overwhelming. My boyfriend would not be moving with me, which would force a long-distance relationship. I don't know how I could find work and housing in or near New York (and sadly, Draper does not offer teaching fellowships). Even the interdisciplinary nature of the program is a double-edged sword; I am not sure how, say, Stanford will look upon an "interdisciplinary humanities" MA. NYU is certainly a very prestigious school (and I have no doubt that an MA in economics there would impress Stanford just fine), but Draper is a very unusual program. To spend two years and$30,000 on something that doesn't significantly improve my chances of a good PhD program would be something of a worst-case scenario.

I'll be speaking tomorrow with my supervisor at work, who happens to be a professor emeritus of physics who was instrumental in helping me get my dean's scholarship for undergrad. He may have some counseling to offer, or better yet perhaps a counter-offer from the University of Michigan that would not require me to move or change jobs. Only time will tell.

By the way, are any of you familiar with the Draper program? What can you tell me about it?

#### Complex systems should not require complex writing.

JDN 2456420 EDT 16:34.

A review of Adaptation in Natural and Artificial Systems by John H. Holland.

This book styles itself "an introductory analysis", and it is not very long (about 200 pages), and yet it took me enormous effort and time to get through it all. Holland appears to have no concept of mathematical elegance, for one thing; he churns through seven steps in an equation with successive approximations, but stubbornly refuses to drop coefficients that he ends up ignoring later anyway.

We get sequences like this (I've written them in LaTeX code, and you'll need amsmath because he uses \gtrsim, "approximately greater than or equal to"):

$n^{*} \gtrsim b^2 ln \left[ \frac{\left( b^{-1}N_1 \right)^2}{8 \pi n^{*} \right]$

$\gtrsim b^2 ln \left[ \frac{b^{-4} N_1^2}{8 \pi} \cdot \frac{1}{ln \left( \left(b^{-1} N_1 \right)^2 / 8 \pi \right) – ln n^{*} \right]$

$\gtrsim b^2 ln \left[ \frac{b^{-4}N_1^2}{8 \pi left( ln N_1^2 – ln \left(b^{-2} / 8 \pi \right) \right)} \right]$

$\gtrsim b^2 ln \left[ \frac{b^{-4} N_1^2}{8 \pi ln N_1^2} \right]$

What is he doing in this awkward sequence, by the way? He's deriving an approximation for the number of trials that a genetic algorithm should devote to strategies that are measured as sub-optimal, since the measurements have errors and the strategies might really be optimal after all. And it's just an approximation, which he never uses ever again. Surely there was a simpler way to write all this?

It's not just the math, either; Holland takes a long time to explain anything, and often repeats himself on points that are obvious while glossing over more difficult ideas. He redefines terms to mean things other than they would normally mean, broadening some, narrowing others, all in a very idiosyncratic way. He formalizes everything, and then changes his own formalism halfway through, redefining something as stochastic instead of deterministic or infinite instead of finite.

That said, the book may be worth reading if you can take it, because there are definitely some very brilliant ideas buried in this mess. Where most evolutionary biology classes will teach you that mutation is essentially arbitrary, random, the mechanics don't matter, Holland shows that the lower-level mechanics of genetics—crossover, inversion, duplication, dominance—are actually fundamentally important in the process of natural selection. They allow what Holland calls implicit parallelism, the process by which testing one organism can actually test millions of different gene combinations simultaneously.

I was skeptical at first; can crossover really be that important? But by the end, Holland had me pretty well convinced. These genetic processes (which he generalizes into formal "genetic operators") allow genes that work well together to stay together, while genes that don't work together get separated. This extends the selfish-gene paradigm further than I think even Dawkins imagined; selection is not only happening at the level of genes, it is happening at the level of gene schemata, with each selection event acting to update the fitness of millions of different gene combinations simultaneously. Implicit in this is, I think, a deep explanation of sexual reproduction: Sex allows us to recombine schemata in ways that are fundamentally new—never done before—and yet at the same time already pre-selected for likelihood of success, because their parts worked fine in a successful living organism. Asexual reproduction merely copies a pre-existing organism, perhaps with a few slight modifications; it cannot generate the massive (yet controlled) novelty that sexual reproduction produces.

Holland develops a very general model, intended to apply to a wide variety of domains; with subtle modifications it can be readily applied to biology, neuroscience, economics, and artificial intelligence. The applications to economics are particularly striking: In explaining how information can be propagated back from the payoff to the schemata that generated it, he develops a model that literally involves "consumers" making "payments" to "suppliers" resulting in "profits". This back-propagation is not perfect, of course, and many of the problems in our real-world economy can be traced in some sense to the failure of profits to back-propagate to those most responsible for producing them.

Many have likened evolution to capitalism in the past, but always on rather weak grounds (mostly just involving competition and payoffs); Holland actually provides an account that sounds genuinely analogous to a market price mechanism. I'd always found it hard to swallow that ATP carries "energy" between cells, since most of the energy in a cell is thermodynamic to begin with and there are a number of different ways that the body transmits energy; but ATP is clearly fundamental to cell signaling. Perhaps it is actually best to think of ATP as a form of money.

In general, the book has piqued my interest in complex systems in general and adaptive algorithms in particular; and it has also given me many new ideas and insights. As a book, however, it's painful to read, and I would not recommend it to anyone who struggles in math in any way whatsoever. (If you are fully comfortable with concepts like liminf and cardinality and power sets, you may be able to slog through as I did.)

Thursday, May 02, 2013

#### Jerry Coyne is right about the harms done by dualistic free will.

Where he's wrong, however, is the idea that fatalism is somehow better. A fatalistic society is a society of the Twinkie Defense, where "my brain made me do it" becomes a fully general excuse for any activity (until someone realizes that "any activity" includes, say, imprisoning people).

Compatibilism--or as Eliezer Yudkowsky likes to call it, requiredism--is the only valid answer. It has always been the only valid answer. It is obviously the only valid answer, and anyone who thinks deeply about the issue should come to this realization. THAT is why philosophers keep writing about compatibilism. Because it's RIGHT.

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