Science. Oh, science.

October 17, 2009

Recently I am getting more and more involved with science, I read “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” by Popper, “Fooled by Randomness” and “The Black Swan” by Taleb and “The structure of scientific revolutions” by Kuhn. Ah, I follow the blog “Science Based Medicine”. As I try to get their points I am sure about one thing:

Science Rocks.

Science is NOT intuitive and our brain is not really fit for it. We have to think hard and with humbleness for getting how it works.

Popper propose the following: we cannot know, we can only test. Taleb stresses that even if we test we should not trust our interpretation of the test, because tha brain is hard-coded for believing in the test rather then being skeptycal about it. The blog “Science Based Medicine” try to explain these points to not-scientifically-trained people who want to use medicine.

Kuhn explore how science changes all over the years.

Know what? The blog “Science Based Medicine” is doing a really hard job, almost impossible, I really respect their courage to attack other people and repeat over and over again their point.

You can see when something is NOT science: it is proposed/invented by a single person (see omeopathy) and not by a community, it highly involves the media (see cold fusion), difficult to assess its results (see acupuncture)

Still I have a non-scientific personal opinion, whatever it happens please do not cease to hope:


October 8, 2009

Legge 23 luglio 2008, n. 124 (c.d. “Lodo Alfano”)

La Corte costituzionale, giudicando sulle questioni di legittimità costituzionale poste con le ordinanze n. 397/08 e n. 398/08 del Tribunale di Milano e n. 9/09 del GIP del Tribunale di Roma ha dichiarato l’illegittimità costituzionale dell’art. 1 della legge 23 luglio 2008, n. 124 per violazione degli articoli 3 e 138 della Costituzione.

Ha altresì dichiarato inammissibili le questioni di legittimità costituzionale della stessa disposizione proposte dal GIP del Tribunale di Roma.

dal Palazzo della Consulta,7 ottobre 2009



3 Article of the constitution: All citizens are equal under the law

138 Article of the constitution: Laws regarding constitutional modification cannot be proposed as ordinary laws.

Fluid Intelligence

September 5, 2009

Why not improving our fluid intelligence with a bit of daily exercise? Fluid intelligence is the skill to solve problems such as Raven Matrices [1,2]

Raven matrix

Raven matrix

all we need to do is to guess the empty space. I encrypted the solution at the end [3].

Incredible but true Jaeggi found that a simple game, called n-back, can train our ram, that is our short-term memory, and that the improvement allow us to be more good at Raven’s tricks.

The game consists of memorizing independently but at the same time a sound and an image.

The game has different levels of difficulties and each level-up is a real challenge! [4].

A Scientific Note

From the scientific point of view Jaeggi pubblication has different interesting aspects:

The first one is that partecipants to her experiments tried the Raven’s test before and after training with the game BUT doing Raven’s test make you more good at it! Half of them was devoted to simply check the improvement given by the test itself. In practice we should account that measuring intelligence change intelligence.

Secondly, usually being good at some task does not make us more intelligent or more good at some other task, it is almost impossible to transfer skills from a task to the other. This make Jaeggi results just surprisings.

The third is that the more you traing the more your fluid intelligence get better! The group of those who make the training was divided into different periods of training, and those who train the more also gained the more.

Jaeggi , only Jaeggi

When I downloaded the software Brainworkshop I found a forum of people who was sharing their experience but I was disappointed to find out many that changed the protocol of Jaeggi, usually making it more difficult, thinking that this would improve the gainings in fluid intelligence. I do not think that this is correct, first if you change the protocol you can no more compare your results with those of Jaeggi pubblication, secondly the experiment is designed to transfer skills from a task to another and I feel that when the exercise is too much difficult this transfer may not happen.



[3]: cceihor


On the 5th of august the new leader of the iranian parliament swore in front of the Corano:

But can one swore if elections were cheated? How do I know? It is not me but statistics: page 6, figure 6 of this link you may see a graphic were in the seventh place three signs are not aligned with what we expected. What does that mean? In practice take the number of voters for candidate Karroubi, we will have 366 numbers (there are 366 area where to vote), now take the first digit of these numbers, statisticians know very well that the digit 1 should show up 30% of the times, digit 2 the 17%, digit 3 the 12% etc. 7 should show up the 6% of the time. In practice it appeared the 11%.

The probability this happened by chance are 0.02%

Or they cheated.

Three weeks ago I have been to a workshop entitled “Limits of approximation algorithms: PCPs and unique games“, the travel expenses were kindly covered by DIMACS. Really nice university in New Jersey. But, guys, New Jersey is not for those without a car.

I will give a rough explaination of the complicated, intricated, probabilistical, fouriertical, technicals but still fascinating concepts around here.

So what is a PCP? It is a Probabilistically Checkable Proof, that is a mathematical proof whose correcteness can be checked by looking at it in random places. Indeed it is something more, it is locally testable, that is we need few bits. And indeed only a constant number of bits, 3.

It does not look so new until here, we can just take a mathematical proof and convert it with some error correcting code trick and get an object with higher redundance. The technique used here is the Fourier transform on the boolean cube, wonderful and versatile tool. (Don’t lose the majority is stablest theorem, really cool)

On the other side we have the mighty NP, the class of problems whose solutions can be checked in polynomial time. This class is really powerful. For example one problem that is in NP is the one of satysfying all the formulas in a set \{x_{i_1} \vee x_{i_2} \vee x_{i_3} | i1,i2,i3 \in [1,n], \x_{u}\in{\text{true},\text{false}}\} , each formula is an OR of three variables, those can be also negative, of course. This problem is called MAX-3SAT. A solution can be checked in polynomial time. Finding it may require trying all the possibilities around.

Now imagine that we are more modest and we simply want to maximize a lot of these clauses, a substantial percentage of the maximum number of them satisfiable for an istance of the problem. One very simple algorithm is going random: try a lot of random assignments! If you think for a while to this algorithm you may see that the approximation of this algorithm is \frac{7}{8} , that is we can expect from this algorithm to have satisfied \frac{7}{8} of the satisfiable clauses. Not so bad for a random typing monkey.

Ok, now it comes the hardness of approximation: we cannot get a polynomial time algorithm, for this problem, that does better than the random typing monkey! That is, if we have one that give us \frac{7}{8} + \epsilon satisfied clauses then P would be equal to NP, and as a friend of mine says we would be like god, or we could just get 1’000’000 dollars.

Wonderful. Where is the PCP? Well a proof of Hastad that NP = PCP(3 queries, log(n) random bits) implies the previous fact.

The main topic of the tutorial was the Unique Games Conjecture, see the part 2. For a clear explaination of all the stuff: Computational Complexity: A Modern Approach

Slops Slops

August 5, 2009

After my post about our women officer I found a confirmation about my suspects about Minister Mara Carfagna:

She is not youth because she is minister, she is minister because she is youth, and did sexual favors to Silvio Berlusconi.

Pretty Women

August 1, 2009

Props and Slops for the women chosen by Silvio Berlusconi for his governement. There are, from left to right or I should say from best to worst, Giorga Meloni, Maria Stella Gelmini, Mara Carfagna and Stefania Prestigiacomo:


Giorgia Meloni: minister of youth

Journalist and politician, this woman became minister at 31 and last year invited italian olympionics to boicot China olympiads for the bad decisions made by the chinese governement against Tibet. Props for her.

Maria Stella Gelmini: minister of public school

About her we do not know much, because she is so reserved. Personally I am not charmed by her because she does not have so much charisma:

Mara Carfagna: minister for the equal opportunities

Mara was born on 1977 and in her biography she can write a 6th place in the beauty context “Miss Italia”, she conducted for five years an italian program and in 2005 she did a calendar:


Maybe it is me but it looks weird that a woman with this expertise is an example for the “equal opportunities”. Why not choosing a business woman?

Stefania Prestigiacomo: Minister of the enviroment

Business woman she has been minister for the equal opportunities from 2001 to 2006, for sure more fit than Carfagna. For the enviroment she is a disaster: can she declare that nuclear energy is the cleanest possible???

47-th second

I would conclude this short presentation with 1 PROPS, 1 SO/SO and 2 SLOPS!


February 9, 2009

A review of Propaganda: The formation of men’s attitudes, by Jacques Ellul.

Last summer I read this dense and engaging book that speaks about propaganda, I came to know of it while reading the Global Village of Marshall McLuhan: I found an interesting citation of this book, it said that Christianism is interested in alphabetizing a population before transmitting the word of God, because it is more easy to convince someone who is alphabetized than someone completely “ignorant”.

I was struck by these words, because they are so true! The condition where man is the most vulnerable is that of half-knowledge:  he knows something and thinks he knows a lot. The perfect situation where he can be cheated.

I think that everybody who looks carefully the messages coming from mass media should be puzzled by their contradictions. Moreover I often doubt that my own ideas are really “mine” and not the fruits of a marketing empty of content or the convinction that our parents were learned when they were young.

This book made me think about the myths of our society, our reasons of living: money, being happy, do your “duty”, succeed at work, “produce”.

In this society of information we are in the hands of who have money and has interest in controlling us. It is not a matter of an “organization”, rather it is the smart guy of the moment.  If before I was thinking about not trusting the media at all, after reading this book I tryto be skeptical about my own thinking.

Behind Ellul’s ideas there is the man. Man is vulnerable, self-contradictory, always struggling fro something. This man is the perfect victim for those who promulgate idea of any kind. Indeed Ellul speaks about big systems propaganda: democracy, comunism, fascism, etc. because he says that they can be all-pervasive, but it is also interesting in that he propose that man want to be propagandize, desire a god of any kind and give his own life to it. More of the times it is simply the money.

I prepared some tips and tricks useful for seeing our own propaganda and a glued set of extracts from the book to give a rough idea of its style and the content.

PROPAGANDA – tips and tricks

Slogans determine with considerable precisione each type of group toward which an individual is oriented, wheter or not he is a member. […] The individual clings to it only because the slogan is easy to understand and to retain, but also because it permits him to “find himself in it”

PROPAGANDA – an incomplete and glued extract from different parts of the book

Propaganda must be total. The propagandist must utilize all of the technical means at his disposal – the press, radio, TV, movies, posters, meetings, door to door canvassing. There is no propaganda as long as one makes use, in sporadic fashion and at random, of a newspaper article here, a poster or radio program there, writes few slogans on walls. Each usable medium has its own particular way of penetration. The propagandist must combine the elements of propaganda as in a real orchestration.

We now come to an absolutely decisive fact. Propaganda is very frequently described as a manipulation for the purpose of changing ideas or opininos, of making individuals “believe” some idea or fact, and finally of making them adhere to some doctrine. This line of reasoning is completely wrong. The aim of modern propaganda is no longer to modify ideas, but to provoke action, It is no longer to change adherence to a doctrine, but to make the individual cling irrationaly to a process of action. It is no longer to transform an opinion, but to arouse an active and mythical belief.

For propaganda to succeed, a society must first have two complementary qualities: it must be both an individualist and a mass society. These two qualities are often considered contradictory. In actual fact an individualist society must be a mass society, because the first move toward liberation of the individual is to break up the small groups that are an organic fact of the entire society. In this process the individual frees himself completely from family, village, parish, or brotherhood bonds- only to find himself vis-a-vis with the entire society. When individuals are not held together by local structures, the only form in which they can live together is in an unstructured mass society. Similarly, a mass society can only be based on individuals- that is, on men in their isolation, whose identities are determined by their relationships with one another. Precisely because the individuals claims to be equal to all other individuals, he becomes an abstraction and is in effect reduced to a cipher.

Besides, modern man is called upon for enormous sacrifices, which probably exceeds anything known in the past. First of all, work has assumed an all-pervading role in modern life. Never have men worked so much as in our society. Then there is the difficulty of accepting the never changing daily-routine, the lack of personal accomplishment, the absence of an apparent meaning of life, the family insecurity provoked by these living conditions. One cannot leave modern man alone in a situation such as this. What can one do? One can have him live in a myth strong enough to offset the concrete disadvantages, or give them a shade of meaning, a value that makes them acceptable. This is the function of Soviet and Chinese propaganda.

I have tried to show elsewhere that propaganda has also become a necessity for the internal life of democracy. Nowadays the state is forced to define an official truth. What am I saying then? That propaganda can promulgate a democratic doctrine? Absolutely.  That it can be used by a government elected with majority vote? Absolutely. In that case the word democracy, having become a simple incitation, no longer has anything to do with democratic behavior. And the citizen can repeat indefinitely “the sacred formulas of democracy” while acting like a storm trooper.

metaphysics, I

June 23, 2008

23 june.

The no asshole rule

February 3, 2008

Visiting a book store this Christmas I was attracted by this title: “The no asshole rule” (Robert Sutton, 2007), since I see that assholes is a contemporary problem and the fact that the book had only 200 pages I bought it.

Sutton starts by defining what an asshole is, who is a person that, after interacting with you, make you feel somewhat humbled, and that attacks people with less power than him.

This definition is an input-output definition but later in the book specific asshole behaviors, with examples, are shown. In that sense one of the latest chapter explain the advantages of being asshole:

  • Showing anger or evilness can be effective for gaining power and to defeat opponents, moreover it make you seem more clever and competent
  • Mixing humbling and encouraging people can convince them you have more power

and some examples are given, Steve Jobs being the most famous one.

Of course a list is proposed to fight them, the assholes, I will cite a part of this:

  • Assholes hire other asshole (this is an example of homosocial reproduction)
  • Assholes should be considered as incompetents
  • Power can trasform a normal person in an asshole
  • If there is a hierarchy in your business make it appear as less than possible
  • If you are right fight, if you are wrong hear (constructive confrontation)

Last but not least it is time that YOU think if you are an asshole, for example, do you think that after all your team would do nothing without you? Do you consider your work associates as contenders? And my favorite one: do people stop having fun when you arrive? 🙂

I think that this quick resume can save you to buy the book that in general I found boring and too much crusading against assholes (of course it is written for a general audience), and many explainations are so obvious, it is sufficient to understand that assholes are the rational agent of the prisoner dilemma that by paying attention to their own interest make the whole community be a big losing guy.

On the other side I like to consider assholeness as a mental disease camouflaged inside social behavior. It is a disease because it causes mental fatigue and damages (to others), it is transmissable (as a reaction to it), it is curable (if you realize it). Moreover I think that is a specific part of our mind that get ill, the one that is needed for interact actively in our world, in that part we have a lot of social patterns that are effective for realizing our goals, and in practice everything that happens to us is seen by one or more of these patterns. It is hard to watch ourselves but I invite the reader to wonder why we are satisfied when we understand a behaviour, I think that it is because a drug is released in the brain to reinforce the pattern used in the understanding.

The problems come out when these patterns make us an asshole.

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