Tagsystems

Trippy 3D Fractal Video

Mandelbox Zoom from hömpörg? on Vimeo.

(via Dose Nation)

The video was made with Mandelbulb 3D. For more 3D fractal images created with Mandelbulb 3D, see here.

Nassim Taleb Exposes Scam Perpetuated by Former Fed Vice Chairman

Nassim Taleb

Nassim Taleb “lowers” himself to doing journalism and writes at the Huffington Post:

The story is as follows. Last year, in Davos, during a private coffee conversation that I thought aimed at saving the world from, among other things, moral hazard, I was interrupted by Alan Blinder, a former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States, who tried to sell me a peculiar investment product. It allowed the high net-worth investor to go around the regulations limiting deposit insurance (at the time, $100,000) and benefit from coverage for near unlimited amounts. The investor would deposit funds in any amount and Prof. Blinder’s company would break it up in smaller accounts and invest in banks, thus escaping the limit; it would look like a single account but would be insured in full. In other words, it would allow the super-rich to scam taxpayers by getting free government sponsored insurance. Yes, scam taxpayers. Legally. With the help of former civil servants who have an insider edge.

I blurted out: “isn’t this unethical?” I was told in response, “We have plenty of former regulators on the staff,” implying that what was legal was ethical.

He goes on to note:

The more complex the regulation, the more bureaucratic the network, the more a regulator who knows the loops and glitches would benefit from it later, as his regulator edge would be a convex function of his differential knowledge. This is a franchise. (Note that this franchise is not limited to finance; the car company Toyota hired former U.S. regulators and used their “expertise” to handle investigations of its car defects). […]

The more complicated the regulation, the more prone to arbitrages by insiders. So 2,300 pages of regulation will be a gold mine for former regulators. The incentive of a regulator is to have complex regulation.

He doesn’t offer any remedy, but it does make more clear something I’ve been wondering about since I started following him: on the one hand, he calls himself a libertarian and skewers regulators, and on the other he says stuff like this:

Complex derivatives need to be banned because nobody understands them and few are rational enough to know it. Citizens must be protected from themselves, from bankers selling them “hedging” products, and from gullible regulators who listen to economic theorists.

I’ve always wanted to ask him about this apparent contradiction: who exactly is supposed to do this banning of derivatives and why should they be trusted? This article gives some clarity: he thinks there should be rules, but they shouldn’t be overly complex, because that breed corruption.

The idea that we should have hard and fast, clear rules as opposed to “regulation” is supported by the failure of the SEC’s revision of certain firms’ debt-ratio requirements. From Reason:

In 2004, the international Committee on Banking Supervision issued Basel II, an accord on banking regulation. In its wake, the SEC revised its regulations to allow five broker-dealer firms with more than $5 billion in capital—Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley—to participate in a voluntary program that changed the way their debt was calculated. The existing net-capital rules required firms to keep their debt-to-net capital ratios below 12-1 and to issue warnings if they started to get close to that. Under the new rules, broker dealers increased these ratios significantly. Merrill Lynch, for instance, hit 40-1. This was possible because the rule changed the formula for risk calculations and instituted more subjective, labor-intensive SEC oversight in place of hard and fast guidelines. “They constructed a mechanism that simply didn’t work,” former SEC official Lee Pickard told The New York Sun on September 18. “The SEC modification in 2004 is the primary reason for all of the losses that have occurred.”

So I’m guessing Taleb draws a line between banning a practice and “regulating” it – and between having rules that banks must follow and “regulating” them. It’s an interesting distinction and I wonder what other self-styled libertarians would think about it.

Taleb also notes how the debate over government and regulation goes back to Ancient Greece at least – which is a discouraging reminder that almost any modern debate we have on almost any subject goes back for centuries. It’s enough to make you want to live in a bathtub and nourish yourself onions.

Happiness And Sadness Spread Just Like Disease

happy feet

There may be a literal truth underlying the common-sense intuition that happiness and sadness are contagious.

A new study on the spread of emotions through social networks shows that these feelings circulate in patterns analogous to what’s seen from epidemiological models of disease.

Earlier studies raised the possibility, but had not mapped social networks against actual disease models.

“This is the first time this contagion has been measured in the way we think about traditional infectious disease,” said biophysicist Alison Hill of Harvard University. […]

Happiness proved less social than sadness. Each happy friend increased an individual’s chances of personal happiness by 11 percent, while just one sad friend was needed to double an individual’s chance of becoming unhappy.

Wired Science: Happiness And Sadness Spread Just Like Disease

Social Physics with Kyle Findlay – Technoccult Interview

Kyle Findlay

Regular readers of this site may have noticed a large number of posts on this site credited to “Social Physicist” – the Twitter handle of Kyle Findlay (and yes, you could be forgiven for confusing our names). Kyle works for a group within one of the world’s largest market research companies, which he describes as a “mini-think tank” with the purpose of exposing people to new ways of thinking and doing things. Having enjoyed his Twitter stream for the past year or so, I got in touch with Kyle Findlay to ask him about the practice of “social physics.” He talked to me by instant message from from his home in Cape Town, South Africa.

Klint Finley: What, as a “social physicist,” do you actually do?

Kyle Findlay: Well, at the moment I’m on my own in this “field,” if you can call it that. It just seems like the best description of what I do and what interests me so hopefully it sticks.

Basically, my interest is in understanding how people act as groups. As emergent entities that have their own (hopefully) predictable and describable topological forms. That’s the lofty idea anyway. And the tools of chaos theory, systems theory, network theory, physics, mathematics, etc. help describe this.

Do you have a background in physical sciences?

None at all. I studied “business science” at the University of Cape Town. My first job was for a company with a strong academic background, started by a professor of religion and a statistician. They used a 5-dimensional catastrophe cusp model to describe people’s relationships with ideas.

The moment I was exposed to this thinking, something clicked. A lot of contradictions that I saw in the world around me were resolved. Ever since I have had an insatiable desire to understand these areas. Which led me to interact with experts in many disciplines from neuroscience to economics, math, physics, AI, ecology, biology, etc. Every field has a piece of the puzzle. I am lucky to work in an environment that gives me free rein to indulge my passion.

Fractal Zoom
Sketch: Fractal Zoom by Kyle Findlay

Do you think what you do is different from systems thinking or social cybernetics?

They are definitely components. Systems thinking is a broad umbrella term. Cybernetics definitely helps us to understand and describe the patterns and multi-dimensional shapes that society creates. But I think that you need the hard sciences like math and physics to really get at the heart of it. Which is why I am feverishly trying to catch up on many years of missing education.

Do you think there are any dangers in applying models designed for physical systems to human behavior?

Yes there are – you will always be at least slightly wrong. There are a lot of parallels between the way people act in groups and other types of particles. But you also have the same problems of predictability in complex systems: sensitivity to initial conditions, 3-body problem, etc. It’s kind of the paradox of it all, something I am still trying to come to grips with.

What’s the most surprising insight you’ve discovered since you started studying this?

Everything is the same and everything is just information. The universal nature of nature is astounding. You see the familiar signs everywhere: from the atomic through to the cosmic level. It makes me think that there really is only one true science or line of inquiry and that most specialised fields are just facets of this. The more fields I delve into, the more commonalities I discover. It’s become par for the course for me now I think. But in the beginning, it really blew my mind.

Man's Part in the System
Sketch: Man’s Part in the System by Kyle Findlay

Have you been able to apply this stuff in any interesting ways? For example, I know you’ve prepared presentations on network theory and power laws for work.

Those have gone down really well within the silos I work in. People have really been amazed when I’ve shown them these kinds of things. It gets their minds racing.

I’m also doing some work applying systems theory to sports science, which can really benefit from changing the way they view the human body. Music is another area that makes a lot more sense from this point of view.

One of my favourites is understanding how human attention works and how to synchronise communication so that it becomes internalized, but that is very theoretical and could be seen as slightly Machiavellian so I won’t go there.

Also, I’ve been having some interesting chats with a neuroscientist around decision-making, attention, etc. The applications are really endless, it’s just where you choose to focus you own attention.

How would you suggest someone interested get started studying social physics?

Well, considering I’m not 100% sure what falls into the bounds of the field myself, it’s difficult to say. There’s no university course for it as far as I know. I would say that you need to have an intense desire to understand why people do what they do. And a slightly perverse fascination with the human condition. Looking at life from a systems perspective is a good start. Understand that patterns are formed internally, that change is the only constant. You can then use tools like network theory, noise analysis, entropy, etc. to understand these ebbs and flows.

Are you familiar with Stephen Wolfram? He wrote a book called a New Kind of Science.

Yes, I know of Stephen Wolfram from his software and Wolfram Alpha. I’ve been intimidated by the size of his book, though. I struggle justifying devoting so much time to one book, which probably says more about me…

Yeah, I haven’t picked it up yet either.

He sounds like a really bright guy. I think I watched a talk of his at the Singularity Summit or somewhere similar, but to be honest, can’t remember much of it.

Most of my reading is in the scientific literature, interspersed with a good book or graphic novel.

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

Speaking of which, do you know of any works of fiction that demonstrate the principles you’re interested in?

Good question. Not too many spring to mind. A classic is Flatland by Edwin Abbot – the quintessential metaphor for perceiving multiple dimensions. The guy wrote a book about perceiving multiple dimensions in the 1800s! Impressive.

A recent book that blew my mind was Accelerando by Charles Stross. He has a great worldview but his insights were more in terms of extrapolating the directions technology is going in.

Yourself? Any suggestions?

Snow Crash seems like it might be relevant. Or the film Run Lola Run.

I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t read Snow Crash. Why do you say Run Lola Run? Time? Sensitivity to initial conditions?

Yep. It shows how tiny changes in a system can have far-ranging results. A starting delay of only a couple of seconds radically changes things for several characters in the different timelines.

True. I’m not going to mention Back to the Future 2 or The Butterfly Effect (although I just did).

Have you heard of the 1990 film, Mindwalk?

No.

It was co-written by Fritjof Capra and consists of several characters discussing the nature of the world from a systems perspective. I have to admit that i fell asleep during it… but I was very tired.

That sounds pretty amazing though.

Yeah – good credentials right there.

My personal favourites are any films or books that push society’s limits. Subversive materials rule in my book (no pun intended). Anything that helps me push back my pre-conceptions and shatter my expectations. They were great at that in the 70s, in music, film and literature. Probably a side-effect of the 60s experimentations. I’m a big fan of exploitation flicks.

Let’s see, what else… I haven’t read Alan Moore’s Big Numbers. But Moore seems to have a pretty good grasp on complexity, judging by Watchmen and From Hell.

I haven’t read Big Numbers either. What elements do you think he draws on in those books?
Watchmen

Watchmen itself seems to be very mathematical – the use of symmetry and so on. In terms of themes, maybe it doesn’t touch on this stuff much, apart from some of Dr. Manhattan’s comments.

Yeah, he definitely weaves a non-linear richness into his tales that is admirable. The way he weaves the various threads of a story together.

I forget why I thought From Hell was relevant. Maybe it’s not.

Also, he calls himself a chaos magician. Watching an interview with him a while back, I could actually identify with a lot of what he was saying.

I wasn’t going to go there, but… have you studying chaos magic or the occult at all?

No I haven’t. That Moore interview is probably as far as I have gone. It’s just not a direction I feel I can go in and remain “grounded” if I want other researchers to take me seriously. But I can definitely see how he got there.

Well, I have and I think you’re better off studying natural sciences, systems, and complexity IMHO.

[Laughs] Cool, thanks for the advice.

But the book Techgnosis by Erik Davis examines a lot of parallels between information theory and cybernetics and mysticism and the occult. I think it stands up pretty well, even if you’re not interested in magic.

I think you have to have a certain detachment to take a step back and observe the world. And when you start seeing everything as inter-related and part of the same thread it becomes easier to start imagining that you can define the tapestry with your perceptions. I guess I don’t want to open that Pandora’s Box. In my view it untethers you. Again, talking from an inexperienced point of view in this area.

Davis’ book sounds interesting though.

From an interview with Manuel DeLanda (who you might be interested in) -conducted by Davis, incidentally:

As Deleuze says, “Always keep a piece of fresh land with you at all times.” Always keep a little spot where you can go back to sleep after a day of destratification. Always keep a small piece of territory, otherwise you’ll go nuts.

Yeah exactly. I find that the concepts I deal with in my day job challenge me enough, and that’s all based on empirically grounded ‘fact’ in the scientific literature.

Most people work very hard to maintain their reality, but I do think that you have to have an affinity towards detachment. A certain world view that is open to having your illusions shattered and actually enjoying that experience. And the cutting edge of science delivers those experiences in spades.

Kyle Findlay

More Info

Kyle on Twitter

Kyle’s Slideshares

Kyle’s Flickr

Pi, Plato and the Language of Nature

Brothers Chudnovsky

After I posted that article about technical analysis a couple people commented that it reminded them of the film Pi, about a renegade mathematician somehow using Pi to search for patters in the stock market with a homemade supercomputer in his crummy Manhatten apartment.

Technical analysis was probably the inspiration for the stock market portion of the film, but did you know that the part about renegade mathematicians building supercomputers in their living rooms to calculate Pi is actually based on a true story? Aronofsky almost certainly took the inspiration from this 1992 New Yorker story:

Gregory Volfovich Chudnovsky recently built a supercomputer in his apartment from mail-order parts. Gregory Chudnovsky is a number theorist. His apartment is situated near the top floor of a run-down building on the West Side of Manhattan, in a neighborhood near Columbia University. Not long ago, a human corpse was found dumped at the end of the block. The world’s most powerful supercomputers include the Cray Y-MP C90, the Thinking Machines CM-5, the Hitachi S-820/80, the nCube, the Fujitsu parallel machine, the Kendall Square Research parallel machine, the NEC SX-3, the Touchstone Delta, and Gregory Chudnovsky’s apartment. The apartment seems to be a kind of container for the supercomputer at least as much as it is a container for people.

Gregory Chudnovsky’s partner in the design and construction of the supercomputer was his older brother, David Volfovich Chudnovsky, who is also a mathematician, and who lives five blocks away from Gregory. The Chudnovsky brothers call their machine m zero. It occupies the former living room of Gregory’s apartment, and its tentacles reach into other rooms. The brothers claim that m zero is a “true, general-purpose supercomputer,” and that it is as fast and powerful as a somewhat older Cray Y-MP, but it is not as fast as the latest of the Y-MP machines, the C90, an advanced supercomputer made by Cray Research. A Cray Y-MP C90 costs more than thirty million dollars. It is a black monolith, seven feet tall and eight feet across, in the shape of a squat cylinder, and is cooled by liquid freon. So far, the brothers have spent around seventy thousand dollars on parts for their supercomputer, and much of the money has come out of their wives’ pockets. […]

Pi is by no means the only unexplored number in the Chudnovskys’ inventory, but it is one that interests them very much. They wonder whether the digits contain a hidden rule, an as yet unseen architecture, close to the mind of God. A subtle and fantastic order may appear in the digits of pi way out there somewhere; no one knows. No one has ever proved, for example, that pi does not turn into nothing but nines and zeros, spattered to infinity in some peculiar arrangement. If we were to explore the digits of pi far enough, they might resolve into a breathtaking numerical pattern, as knotty as “The Book of Kells,” and it might mean something. It might be a small but interesting message from God, hidden in the crypt of the circle, awaiting notice by a mathematician. On the other hand, the digits of pi may ramble forever in a hideous cacophony, which is a kind of absolute perfection to a mathematician like Gregory Chudnovsky. Pi looks “monstrous” to him. “We know absolutely nothing about pi,” he declared from his bed. “What the hell does it mean? The definition of pi is really very simple—it’s just the ratio of the circumference to the diameter—but the complexity of the sequence it spits out in digits is really unbelievable. We have a sequence of digits that looks like gibberish.”

New Yorker: Mountains of Pi

Since the publication of that story, the Brothers Chudnovsky have apparently turned their attentions to applying their expertise in supercomputing to other domains. Richard Preston, author of the original piece, wrote a follow-up for the New Yorker in 2005.

You can learn more about them on this NOVA page.

Reading all of this reminded me of a story I read earlier in the week about someone who claims to have “cracked the code” in Plato’s writings:

The hidden codes show that Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important idea – the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. […]

However Plato did not design his secret patterns purely for pleasure – it was for his own safety. Plato’s ideas were a dangerous threat to Greek religion. He said that mathematical laws and not the gods controlled the universe. Plato’s own teacher had been executed for heresy. Secrecy was normal in ancient times, especially for esoteric and religious knowledge, but for Plato it was a matter of life and death. Encoding his ideas in secret patterns was the only way to be safe.

Manchester University: Science historian cracks “the Plato code”

(via Social Physicist)

Analyst Uses Fractals To Predict Market Crash of ‘Staggering Proportions’

Xaos fractal

Robert Prechter, who uses technical analysis, a theory that holds that there are mathematically computable patterns in the stock market, think’s we’re in for the “big one” in a big way:

Mr. Prechter is convinced that we have entered a market decline of staggering proportions — perhaps the biggest of the last 300 years. […]

Originating in the writings of Ralph Nelson Elliott, an obscure accountant who found repetitive patterns, or “fractals,” in the stock market of the 1930s and ’40s, the theory suggests that an epic downswing is under way, Mr. Prechter said. But he argued that even skeptical investors should take his advice seriously. […]

For a rough parallel, he said, go all the way back to England and the collapse of the South Sea Bubble in 1720, a crash that deterred people “from buying stocks for 100 years,” he said. This time, he said, “If I’m right, it will be such a shock that people will be telling their grandkids many years from now, ‘Don’t touch stocks.’ ”

New York Times: A Market Forecast That Says ‘Take Cover’

First Replicating “Creature” Created in Game of Life

A first for the game, the replicator demonstrates how astounding complexity can arise from simple beginnings and processes – an echo of life’s origins, perhaps. It might help us understand how life on Earth began, or even inspire strategies to build tiny computers.

The Game of Life is the best-known example of a cellular automaton, in which patterns form and evolve on a grid according to a few simple rules. You play the game by choosing an initial pattern of “live” cells, and then watch as the configuration changes over many generations as the rules are applied over and over again (see “Take two simple rules”).

The rules of the game were laid down by mathematician John Conway in 1970, but cellular automata first took off in the 1940s when the late mathematician John von Neumann suggested using them to demonstrate self-replication in nature. This lent philosophical undertones to Life, which ended up attracting a cult following.

Life enthusiasts have since catalogued an entire zoo of interesting patterns, such as “spaceships” that travel across the grid, or “guns”, which constantly spawn other patterns. But a pattern that spawned an identical copy of itself proved elusive.

New Scientist:

(Thanks socialfiction)

Search Engine Algorithms Used to Analyze Brain Activity

eigenvector centrality

In this case, the fact that the brain – just like the internet – is a network with “small world properties” helps. Every pixel in the brain and every Internet page can be seen as a hub in this network. The hubs can be directly connected to each other just as two Internet pages can be linked.

With eigenvector centrality, the hubs are assessed based on the type and quality of their connections to other hubs. On the one hand, it is important how many connections a particular node has, and on the other, the connections of the neighbouring nodes are also significant. Search engines like Google use this principle, meaning that Internet sites linked to frequently visited sites, like Wikipedia, for example, appear higher in results than web pages which don’t have good connections.
“The advantages of analyzing fMRI results with eigenvector centrality are obvious,” says Gabriele Lohmann from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig. The method views the connections of the brain regions collectively and is computationally efficient. Therefore, it is ideal for detecting brain activity reflecting the states that subjects are in.

PhysOrg: The network in our heads: What our brains have in common with the internet

(via Social Physicist)

Discarded data may be gateway to new brain insights

Plot of 1 second of human brain (EEG) activity by Zeno

Scientists regularly discard up to 90 percent of the signals from monitoring of brain waves, one of the oldest techniques for observing changes in brain activity. They discard this data as noise because it produces a seemingly irregular pattern like those seen in river fluctuations, seismic waves, heart rates, stock market prices and a wide variety of other phenomena.

Now, though, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found evidence that these data may contain significant information about how the brain works. In a study published in the May 13 Neuron, a closer look reveals not only previously unrecognized patterns in the data but also shows that putting the brain to work on a simple task can change those patterns.

“We don’t yet know how to decode the information contained in these signals, but the fact that they’re such a large part of brain activity and that they can be modulated when you do a task suggests that they are going to be very important to understanding the brain,” says lead author Biyu Jade He, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow.

Are they talking about 1/ƒ noise (pink noise) here? The brain does generate 1/ƒ noise.

(via Phase III)

Image by Zeno / CC

The Totalitarian Buddhist Who Beat Sim City

Vincent Ocasla claims to have “beaten” SimCity by creating an amazing city with population of 6 million and no roads (only subways) that lasts for 50,000 years.

I’ve a quote from one of your Facebook status updates here: “The economic slave never realizes he is kept in a cage going round and round basically nowhere with millions of others.” Do you not feel that sums up the lives of the citizens of Magnasanti? (And you might want to set your Facebook to private by the way.)

Precisely that. Technically, no one is leaving or coming into the city. Population growth is stagnant. Sims don’t need to travel long distances, because their workplace is just within walking distance. In fact they do not even need to leave their own block. Wherever they go it’s like going to the same place.

Heavy.

There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle – this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population. It’s a sick and twisted goal to strive towards. The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don’t rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.

Viceland Games: The Totalitarian Buddhist Who Beat Sim City

Vincent Ocasla’s site

Ocasla was inspired in part by the Kowloon Walled City

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