Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Neuron–astrocyte networks might perform the core computations performed by AI transformer blocks

Fascinating ideas from Kozachkov et al. Their text contains primers on Astrocyte biology and the transformers found in AI Generative Pre-trained Transformers such as ChatGPT.  


Transformers have become the default choice of neural architecture for many machine learning applications. Their success across multiple domains such as language, vision, and speech raises the question: How can one build Transformers using biological computational units? At the same time, in the glial community, there is gradually accumulating evidence that astrocytes, formerly believed to be passive house-keeping cells in the brain, in fact play an important role in the brain’s information processing and computation. In this work we hypothesize that neuron–astrocyte networks can naturally implement the core computation performed by the Transformer block in AI. The omnipresence of astrocytes in almost any brain area may explain the success of Transformers across a diverse set of information domains and computational tasks.
Glial cells account for between 50% and 90% of all human brain cells, and serve a variety of important developmental, structural, and metabolic functions. Recent experimental efforts suggest that astrocytes, a type of glial cell, are also directly involved in core cognitive processes such as learning and memory. While it is well established that astrocytes and neurons are connected to one another in feedback loops across many timescales and spatial scales, there is a gap in understanding the computational role of neuron–astrocyte interactions. To help bridge this gap, we draw on recent advances in AI and astrocyte imaging technology. In particular, we show that neuron–astrocyte networks can naturally perform the core computation of a Transformer, a particularly successful type of AI architecture. In doing so, we provide a concrete, normative, and experimentally testable account of neuron–astrocyte communication. Because Transformers are so successful across a wide variety of task domains, such as language, vision, and audition, our analysis may help explain the ubiquity, flexibility, and power of the brain’s neuron–astrocyte networks.

Monday, August 28, 2023

A shared novelty-seeking basis for creativity and curiosity

I pass on the abstract of a target article having the title of this post, sent to me by Behavioral and Brain Science. I'm reading through it, and would be willing to send a PDF of the article to motivated MindBlog readers who wish to check it out.
Curiosity and creativity are central pillars of human growth and invention. While they have been studied extensively in isolation, the relationship between them has not yet been established. We propose that curiosity and creativity both emanate from the same mechanism of novelty-seeking. We first present a synthesis showing that curiosity and creativity are affected similarly by a number of key cognitive faculties such as memory, cognitive control, attention, and reward. We then review empirical evidence from neuroscience research, indicating that the same brain regions are involved in both curiosity and creativity, focusing on the interplay between three major brain networks: the default-mode network, the salience network, and the executive control network. After substantiating the link between curiosity and creativity, we propose a novelty- seeking model (NSM) that underlies them both and suggest that the manifestation of the NSM is governed by one’s state of mind (SoM).

Friday, August 25, 2023

The promise and pitfalls of the metaverse for science

A curious open-sourse bit of hand waving and gibble-gabble about the metaverse. I pass on the first two paragraphs and links to its references.
Some technology companies and media have anointed the metaverse as the future of the internet. Advances in virtual reality devices and high-speed connections, combined with the acceptance of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, have brought considerable attention to the metaverse as more than a mere curiosity for gaming. Despite substantial investments and ambitiously optimistic pronouncements, the future of the metaverse remains uncertain: its definitions and boundaries alternate among dystopian visions, a mixture of technologies (for example, Web3 and blockchain) and entertainment playgrounds.
As a better-defined and more-coherent realization of the metaverse continues to evolve, scientists have already started bringing their laboratories to 3D virtual spaces, running experiments with virtual reality and augmenting knowledge by using immersive representations. We consider how scientists can flexibly and responsibly leverage the metaverse, prepare for its uncertain future and avoid some of its pitfalls.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Why citizens vote away the democracies they claim to cherish.

Here is an interesting bit of research from Braley et al. reported in Nature Human Behaviour. Their abstract:
Around the world, citizens are voting away the democracies they claim to cherish. Here we present evidence that this behaviour is driven in part by the belief that their opponents will undermine democracy first. In an observational study (N = 1,973), we find that US partisans are willing to subvert democratic norms to the extent that they believe opposing partisans are willing to do the same. In experimental studies (N = 2,543, N = 1,848), we revealed to partisans that their opponents are more committed to democratic norms than they think. As a result, the partisans became more committed to upholding democratic norms themselves and less willing to vote for candidates who break these norms. These findings suggest that aspiring autocrats may instigate democratic backsliding by accusing their opponents of subverting democracy and that we can foster democratic stability by informing partisans about the other side’s commitment to democracy.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Never-Ending Stories - a survival tactic for uncertain times

I keep returning to clips of text that I abstracted from a recent piece by Venkatesh Rao. It gets more rich for me on each re-reading.  I like its points about purpose being inappropriate for uncertain times when the simplification offered by a protocol narrative is the best route to survival.  I post the clips here for my own future use, also thinking it might interest some MindBlog readers:

Never-Ending Stories

Marching beat-by-beat into a Purposeless infinite horizon

During periods of emergence from crisis conditions (both acute and chronic), when things seem overwhelming and impossible to deal with, you often hear advice along the following lines:

Take it one day at a time

Take it one step at a time

Sleep on it; morning is wiser than evening

Count to ten

Or even just breathe

All these formulas have one thing in common: they encourage you to surrender to the (presumed benevolent) logic of a situation at larger temporal scales by not thinking about it, and only attempt to exercise agency at the smallest possible temporal scales.

These formulas typically move you from a state of high-anxiety paralyzed inaction or chaotic, overwrought thrashing, to deliberate but highly myopic action. They implicitly assume that lack of emotional regulation is the biggest immediate problem and attempt to get you into a better-regulated state by shrinking time horizons. And that deliberate action (and more subtly, deliberate inaction) is better than either frozen inaction or overwrought thrashing.

There is no particular reason to expect taking things step-by-step to be a generally good idea. Studied, meditative myopia may be good for alleviating the subjective anxieties induced by a stressful situation, but there’s no reason to believe that the objective circumstances will yield to the accumulating power of “step-by-step” local deliberateness.

So why is this common advice? And is it good advice?

I’m going to develop an answer using a concept I call narrative protocols. This step-by-step formula is a typical invocation of such protocols. They seem to work better than we expect under certain high-stress conditions.

Protocol Narratives, Narrative Protocols

Loosely speaking, a protocol narrative is a never-ending story. I’ll define it more precisely as follows:

A protocol narrative is a never-ending story, without a clear capital-P Purpose, driven by a narrative protocol that can generate novelty over an indefinite horizon, without either a) jumping the shark, b) getting irretrievably stuck, or c) sinking below a threshold of minimum viable unpredictability.

A narrative protocol, for the purposes of this essay, is simply a storytelling formula that allows the current storytellers to continue the story one beat at a time, without a clear idea of how any of the larger narrative structure elements, like scenes, acts, or epic arcs, might evolve.

Note that many narrative models and techniques, including the best-known on
e, the Hero’s Journey, are not narrative protocols because they are designed to tell stories with clear termination behaviors. They are guaranteed-ending stories. They may be used to structure episodes within a protocol narrative, but by themselves are not narrative protocols.

This pair of definitions is not as abstract as it might seem. Many real-world fictional and non-fictional narratives approximate never-ending stories.

Long-running extended universe franchises (Star Wars, Star Trek, MCU), soap operas, South Park …, the Chinese national grand narrative, and perhaps the American one as well, are all approximate examples of protocol narratives driven by narrative protocols.

Protocols and Purpose

In ongoing discussions of protocols, several of us independently arrived at a conclusion that I articulate as protocols have functions but not purposes, by which I mean capital-P Purposes. Let’s distinguish two kinds of motive force in any narrative:

1. Functions are causal narrative mechanisms for solving particular problems in a predictable way. For example, one way to resolve a conflict between a hero and a villain is a fight. So a narrative technology that offers a set of tropes for fights has something like a fight(hero, villain) function that skilled authors or actors can invoke in specific media (text, screen, real-life politics). You might say that fight(hero, villain) transitions the narrative state causally from a state of unresolved conflict to resolved conflict. Functions need not be dramatic or supply entertainment though; they just need to move the action along, beat-by-beat, in a causal way.

2. Purposes are larger philosophical theses whose significance narratives may attest to, but do not (and cannot) exhaust. These theses may take the form of eternal conditions (“the eternal struggle between good and neutral”), animating paradoxes (“If God is good, why does He allow suffering to exist?”), or historicist, teleological terminal conditions. Not all stories have Purposes, but the claim is often made that the more elevated sort can and should. David Mamet, for instance, argues that good stories engage with and air eternal conflicts, drawing on their transformative power to drive events, without exhausting them.

In this scheme, narrative protocols only require a callable set of functions to be well-defined. They do not need, and generally do not have Purposes. Functions can sustain step-by-step behaviors all by themselves.

What’s more, not only are Purposes not necessary, they might even be actively harmful during periods of crisis, when arguably a bare-metal protocol narrative, comprising only functions, should exist.

There is, in fact, a tradeoff between having a protocol underlying a narrative, and an overarching Purpose guiding it from “above.”

The Protocol-Purpose Tradeoff

During periods of crisis, when larger logics may be uncomputable, and memory and identity integration over longer epochs may be intractable, it pays to shorten horizons until you get to computability and identity integrity — so long as the underlying assumptions that movement and deliberation are better than paralysis and thrashing hold.

The question remains though. When are such assumptions valid?

This is where the notion of a protocol enters the picture in a fuller way. There is protocols as in a short foreground behavior sequence (like step-by-step), but there is also the idea of a big-P Protocol, as in a systematic (and typically constructed rather than natural) reality in the background that has more lawful and benevolent characteristics than you may suspect.

Enacting protocol narratives is enacting trust in the a big-P Protocolized environment. You trust that the protocol narrative is much bigger than the visible tip of the iceberg that you functionally relate to.

As a simple illustration, on a general somewhat sparse random graph, trying to navigate by a greedy or myopic algorithm, one step at a time, to get to destination coordinates, is likely to get you trapped in a random cul-de-sac. But that same algorithm, on a regular rectangular grid, will not only get you to your destination, it will do so via a shortest path. You can trust the gridded reality more, given the same foreground behaviors.

In this example, the grid underlying the movement behavior is the big-P protocol that makes the behavior more effective than it would normally be. It serves as a substitute for the big-P purpose.

This also gives us a way to understand the promises, if not the realities, of big-P purposes of the sort made by religion, and why there is an essential tension and tradeoff here. 

To take a generic example, let’s say I tell you that in my religion, the
cosmos is an eternal struggle between Good and Evil, and that you should be Good in this life in order to enjoy a pleasurable heaven for eternity (terminal payoff) as well as to Do The Right Thing (eternal principle).

How would you use it?

This is not particularly useful in complex crisis situations where good and evil may be hard to disambiguate, and available action options may simply not have a meaningful moral valence.

The protocol directive of step-by-step is much less opinionated. It does not require you to act in a good way. It only requires you to take a step in a roughly right direction. And then another. And another. The actions do not even need to be justifiably rational with respect to particular consciously held premises. They just need to be deliberate.


A sign that economic narratives are bare-bones protocol narratives is the fact that they tend to continue uninterrupted through crises that derail or kill other kinds of narratives. Through the Great Weirding and the Pandemic, we still got GDP, unemployment, inflation, and interest rate “stories.”

I bet that even if aliens landed tomorrow, even though the rest of us would be in a state of paralyzed inaction, unable to process or make sense of events, economists would continue to publish their numbers and argue about whether aliens landing is inflationary or deflationary. And at the microeconomic level, Matt Levine would probably write a reassuring Money Matters column explaining how to think about it all in terms of SEC regulations and force majeure contract clauses.

I like making fun of economists, but if you think about this, there is a profound and powerful narrative capability at work here. Strong protocol narratives can weather events that are unnarratable for all other kinds of narratives. Events that destroy high-Purpose religious and political narratives might cause no more than a ripple in strong protocol narratives.

So if you value longevity and non-termination, and you sense that times are tough, it makes sense to favor Protocols over Purposes.


Step-by-Step is Hard-to-Kill

While economic narratives provide a good and clear class of examples of protocol narratives, they are not the only or even best examples.

The best examples are ones that show that a bare set of narrative functions is enough to sustain psychological life indefinitely. That surprisingly bleak narratives are nevertheless viable.

The very fact that we can even talk of “going through the motions” or feeling “empty and purposeless” when a governing narrative for a course of events is unsatisfying reveals that something else is in fact continuing, despite the lack of Purpose. Something that is computationally substantial and life-sustaining.

I recall a line from (I think) an old Desmond Bagley novel I read as a teenager, where a hero is trudging through a trackless desert. His inner monologue is going, one bloody foot after the next blood foot; one bloody step after the next bloody step.

Weird though it might seem, that’s actually a complete story. It works as a protocol narrative. There is a progressively summarizable logic to it, and a memory-ful evolving identity to it. If you’re an economist, it might even be a satisfying narrative, as good as “number go up.”

Protocol narratives only need functions to keep going.

They do not need Purposes, and generally are, to varying degrees, actively hostile to such constructs. It’s not just take it one day at a time, but an implied don’t think about weeks and months and the meaning of life; it might kill you.

While protocol narratives may tolerate elements of Purpose during normal times, they are especially hostile to them during crisis periods. If you think about it, step-by-step advancement of a narrative is a minimalist strategy. If a narrative can survive on a step-by-step type protocol alone, it is probably extraordinarily hard to kill, and doing more likely adds risk and fragility (hence the Protocol-Purpose tradeoff).

During periods of crisis, narrative protocols switch into a kind of triage mode where only step-by-step movement is allowed (somewhat like how, in debugging a computer program, stepping through code is a troubleshooting behavior). More abstract motive forces are deliberately suspended.

I like to think of the logic governing this as exposure therapy for life itself. In complex conditions, the most important thing to do is simply to choose life over and over, deliberately, step-by-step. To keep going is to choose life, and it is always the first order of business.

This is why, as I noted in the opening section, lack of emotional regulation is the first problem to address. Because in a crisis, if it is left unmanaged, it will turn into a retreat from life itself. As Churchill said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

To reach for loftier abstractions than step-by-step in times of crisis is to retreat from life. Purpose is a life-threatening luxury you cannot afford in difficult times. But a narrative protocol will keep you going through even nearly unnarratable times. And even if it feels like merely going through empty motions, sometimes all it takes to choose life is to be slightly harder to kill.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Born Rich

I want to pass on a few slightly edited clips from an interesting essay in The Dispatch by conservative writer Kevin Williamson that a friend pointed me to. And then I pass on the comment on Williamson's ideas offered by another friend: "Wow, this one’s a big gulp of the Kool-Aid. This thesis is patently untrue. As the one percent continues to grow in our current corporate low-tax, constantly crippled regulated business environment, the fallacy of this perspective grows along with it. This is exactly the thinking that book I recommended discusses (Oreskes and Conway: "How American business taught us to loathe government and love the free market.") Our democracy as it is currently functioning is not a Great Leveler.
One of the most distasteful aspects of our politics is the extent to which it is so obviously driven by envy, which is what 99 percent of that “privileged elite” talk ends up being about. But I suppose I am the wrong person to complain about that, because I was born rich, but I don't mean rich in the usual money sense.
Our intellectual and political life is dominated by a relatively narrow class of what we might call intellectually tall people, high-IQ people with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. And while a great many of them believe that inherited wealth is profoundly unfair, very few of them have any similar thoughts to share about the social role of inherited intelligence.
One of the hardest things to drill into the noggins of the American ruling class (and let’s not pretend that there isn’t one, even if it isn’t exactly what you might expect) is that there is no more merit in being born with certain economically valuable intellectual talents than there is in being born tall, or with curly hair—or white, for that matter. Inherited wealth is an enormous factor in the lives of a relatively small number of Americans and a more modest one in the lives of a larger number, but inherited brainpower is the unearned asset that matters most. We live in a very competitive, very connected world, one with very, very efficient labor markets...We have pretty effective tools (including standardized testing) that are very useful for reaching far, wide, and deep into the population to identify intellectual high-fliers and to direct them into educational and career paths that will give them the chance to make the most out of their lives. There probably is no better place in the world to be born poor and smart—but there is no more merit in being born smart than there is blame in being born poor.
The American “meritocracy” is based to a considerable extent on the generally unspoken proposition that intelligence is merit, and that smart people deserve their success in a special way. Our country is run by smart people, and the smart people in charge very much want to believe that they are where they are because of merit, because of the exemplary lives they have led, not because of some unearned hereditary trait that is the intellectual equivalent of a trust fund. The 1994 book "The Bell Curve" was an attempt to explore the paradox of the hereditary “meritocracy” in a serious way, and it was shouted down by—this was not coincidental—the class of people whose self-conception as a meritorious elite was most directly threatened by the authors’ hypothesis.
Understanding the privileges that go along with inherited intellectual ability as being in a moral sense very much like the privileges that go along with inherited wealth (or an inherited social-racial position or whatever privilege you like) opens up a radical and disruptive perspective on American public life—and draws attention to social situations that, even if understood to be unfair because of the role of hereditary advantage, are not open to resolution through redistributive taxes or affirmative action or anything like that. We aren’t going to mandate that half of the brain surgeons or theoretical physicists have below-average IQs.
Being a conservative, I believe that a healthy society necessarily contains a great deal of organic, authentic diversity. Being a realist, I also believe that this diversity comes with hierarchy. As Russell Kirk observed:
Conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems. For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation. Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Human History gets a rewrite.

I want to point to two articles I have enjoyed reading, both describing the recent book by Graeber and Wengrowa; “The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity.” The review by Deresiewicz is in The Atlantic Magazine, and The New Yorker Review " is by Lewis-Krause. Some clips from Deresiewicz:
The Dawn of Everything is written against the conventional account of human social history as first developed by Hobbes and Rousseau; elaborated by subsequent thinkers; popularized today by the likes of Jared Diamond, Yuval Noah Harari, and Steven Pinker; and accepted more or less universally...The story is linear (the stages are followed in order, with no going back), uniform (they are followed the same way everywhere), progressive (the stages are “stages” in the first place, leading from lower to higher, more primitive to more sophisticated), deterministic (development is driven by technology, not human choice), and teleological (the process culminates in us).
It is also, according to Graeber and Wengrow, completely wrong. Drawing on a wealth of recent archaeological discoveries that span the globe, as well as deep reading in often neglected historical sources (their bibliography runs to 63 pages), the two dismantle not only every element of the received account but also the assumptions that it rests on. Yes, we’ve had bands, tribes, cities, and states; agriculture, inequality, and bureaucracy, but what each of these were, how they developed, and how we got from one to the next—all this and more, the authors comprehensively rewrite. More important, they demolish the idea that human beings are passive objects of material forces, moving helplessly along a technological conveyor belt that takes us from the Serengeti to the DMV. We’ve had choices, they show, and we’ve made them. Graeber and Wengrow offer a history of the past 30,000 years that is not only wildly different from anything we’re used to, but also far more interesting: textured, surprising, paradoxical, inspiring.
Is “civilization” worth it, the authors want to know, if civilization—ancient Egypt, the Aztecs, imperial Rome, the modern regime of bureaucratic capitalism enforced by state violence—means the loss of what they see as our three basic freedoms: the freedom to disobey, the freedom to go somewhere else, and the freedom to create new social arrangements? Or does civilization rather mean “mutual aid, social co-operation, civic activism, hospitality [and] simply caring for others”?
These are questions that Graeber, a committed anarchist—an exponent not of anarchy but of anarchism, the idea that people can get along perfectly well without governments—asked throughout his career. The Dawn of Everything is framed by an account of what the authors call the “indigenous critique.” In a remarkable chapter, they describe the encounter between early French arrivals in North America, primarily Jesuit missionaries, and a series of Native intellectuals—individuals who had inherited a long tradition of political conflict and debate and who had thought deeply and spoke incisively on such matters as “generosity, sociability, material wealth, crime, punishment and liberty.”
The Indigenous critique, as articulated by these figures in conversation with their French interlocutors, amounted to a wholesale condemnation of French—and, by extension, European—society: its incessant competition, its paucity of kindness and mutual care, its religious dogmatism and irrationalism, and most of all, its horrific inequality and lack of freedom. The authors persuasively argue that Indigenous ideas, carried back and publicized in Europe, went on to inspire the Enlightenment (the ideals of freedom, equality, and democracy, they note, had theretofore been all but absent from the Western philosophical tradition). They go further, making the case that the conventional account of human history as a saga of material progress was developed in reaction to the Indigenous critique in order to salvage the honor of the West. We’re richer, went the logic, so we’re better. The authors ask us to rethink what better might actually mean.

Friday, August 11, 2023

The immaturity of America's therapeutic culture

I  recommend reading the most recent NYTimes David Brook's piece, and pass on here ChatGPT 4's response to my request to summarize the main  its 1,472 words. It produced the following  339 words which nicely cover Brook's core points.  I think I will start using ChatGPT 4 more frequently for this purpose since  I've only recently realized that MindBlog readers who do not subscribe to the NYTimes can not read articles that I point to.  Also, I simply don't have the time to generate summaries myself, because I want to be working on other things.  

Summary of the Essay on the American Therapeutic Culture and Maturity: 

The decline of the American psyche can be linked to cultural shifts that started after World War II, leading to the rise of the therapeutic culture.

Historically, self-worth was derived from one's relationship with God or success in the marketplace. In the therapeutic culture, self-worth is gauged by subjective feelings about oneself.

This culture turned many into fragile narcissists, detached from moral traditions and relying heavily on public affirmation for self-worth.

By 2010, the US faced a mental health crisis, marked by rising rates of depression and suicide. Social media became a platform for seeking validation but often resulted in rejection.

The term “trauma” began to encompass a wider range of upsetting experiences, moving from severe physical harm to milder psychological wounds. Trauma became a dominant theme in culture, with many using it as a primary source of identity.

Safetyism emerged, advocating for protections against emotional harm. This led to concepts like “trigger warnings,” “microaggressions,” and “safe spaces.” 

The approach to trauma became counterproductive, with certain false ideas propagated, such as "what doesn't kill you makes you weaker" and the portrayal of traumatized individuals as passive victims.

An opposing perspective, led by figures like Jordan Peterson, argued for resilience and not viewing oneself as a perpetual victim. Yet, these figures too sometimes portrayed themselves as victims in a different context.

This societal focus on victimhood has led to a public culture that is impulsive and erratic. The loudest voices often dominate discussions, sidelining mature discourse.

The core issue is the therapeutic ethos itself, which disconnects people from a broader moral order and asks individuals to create an identity solely from within. 

True maturity is not self-centered but involves weaving an identity from commitments and relationships with others. It's about seeing situations from multiple perspectives and committing to concrete moral goals.

Maturity allows individuals to be calm and understanding in challenging situations, and this might be the answer to building a more resilient and connected culture in the future.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

What is intelligence?

I want to share a message sent by Clint Sprott to the Chaos and Complexity seminar group at the University of Wisconsin which he started many years ago - it is currently engaged in a discussion of intelligence:

I asked ChatGPT to define intelligence and whether it is intelligent:

How would you define intelligence?

Defining intelligence is a complex and multifaceted task, as it encompasses a wide range of abilities and capacities exhibited by living organisms and artificial systems. Intelligence can be broadly described as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge, learn from experiences, reason, solve problems, adapt to new situations, and exhibit complex cognitive functions.

Intelligence is not limited to a single dimension but rather exists along a spectrum, manifesting in various forms and levels across different species and individuals. It includes both cognitive abilities, such as logical reasoning, memory, language, and spatial awareness, as well as emotional intelligence, social skills, creativity, and adaptability.

It's essential to recognize that intelligence is not solely determined by traditional measures like IQ tests. Intelligence is a dynamic and context-dependent trait that can manifest differently in different environments and cultural contexts. Moreover, intelligence can also be seen in non-biological entities, such as artificial intelligence, where it refers to the ability of machines to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence.

Overall, intelligence is a complex and evolving concept, and our understanding of it continues to evolve as we explore and study the diverse manifestations of intelligence in both living beings and intelligent systems.

Are you intelligent?

As an AI language model, I don't possess consciousness, self-awareness, or subjective experiences, which are crucial components of human intelligence. However, I have been trained on vast amounts of data and have been designed to perform specific tasks, such as understanding and generating human-like text based on the patterns in the data I was trained on.

While AI models like me can process information quickly, analyze patterns, and provide useful responses, it's essential to understand that this is a form of artificial intelligence, and it differs significantly from human intelligence in terms of awareness, emotions, and consciousness.

In essence, I am a tool created by humans to assist with various tasks, but I do not possess genuine intelligence or consciousness as humans do. My responses are based solely on patterns in the data I've been trained on and the algorithms that govern my functioning.

Monday, August 07, 2023

America's legacy of poverty - The injustice of place.

Having moved back into the house in which I grew up in Austin Texas, and watching the city inexorably move towards becoming a dystopian metroplex, the analysis of Edin, Schaefer and Nelson makes me feel like returning to the Midwest, where I spent most of my adult life as a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. They paint the most clear and focused explanation for the roots of inequality in America that I have read, concluding that the upper Midwest is the best place to live in America. Here is the concluding paragraph of their piece in the The Atlantic, titled “What the Best Places in America Have in Common.” It is a summary of the message of their new book “The Injustice of Place: Uncovering the legacy of poverty in America.”
The lesson is that people seem to thrive—not always in high salaries but in health and life chances—when inequality is low; when landownership is widespread; when social connection is high; and when corruption and violence are rare. The social leveling that is characteristic of communities in the upper Midwest is more than just a quaint cultural feature. It is the foundation of a community’s well-being. Until these regions’ virtues are shared nationwide, poverty and disadvantage will continue to haunt America.

Friday, August 04, 2023

18-month old humans discriminate moral violations from disobedient or unexpected events

Fascinating studies from Kassecker et al. (open source) have used multiple methods (eye-tracking, observations of expressive behaviors) to probe the developmental origins of human moral cognition by assessing infants’ ability to differentiate between prototypical harmful (moral) and harmless (conventional) violations:
Humans reason and care about ethical issues, such as avoiding unnecessary harm. But what enables us to develop a moral capacity? This question dates back at least to ancient Greece and typically results in the traditional opposition between sentimentalism (the view that morality is mainly driven by socioaffective processes) and rationalism [the view that morality is mainly driven by (socio)cognitive processes or reason]. Here, we used multiple methods (eye-tracking and observations of expressive behaviors) to assess the role of both cognitive and socioaffective processes in infants’ developing morality. We capitalized on the distinction between moral (e.g., harmful) and conventional (e.g., harmless) transgressions to investigate whether 18-mo-old infants understand actions as distinctively moral as opposed to merely disobedient or unexpected. All infants watched the same social scene, but based on prior verbal interactions, an actor’s tearing apart of a picture (an act not intrinsically harmful) with a tool constituted either a conventional (wrong tool), a moral (producing harm), or no violation (correct tool). Infants’ anticipatory looks differentiated between conventional and no violation conditions, suggesting that they processed the verbal interactions and built corresponding expectations. Importantly, infants showed a larger increase in pupil size (physiological arousal), and more expressions indicating empathic concern, in response to a moral than to a conventional violation. Thus, infants differentiated between harmful and harmless transgressions based solely on prior verbal interactions. Together, these convergent findings suggest that human infants’ moral development is fostered by both sociocognitive (inferring harm) and socioaffective processes (empathic concern for others’ welfare).

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Work as war...and Pritzker's Formulae To Spot An Idiot

Too fascinating pieces on how in the areas of politics and business our more recently evolved primate capabilities for empathy and compassion are being subverted by the more primitive instinctual drives regulating fear and combat. (This post is another example of using MindBlog as an archive of some bonbons I have enjoyed, entering them so that I easily look them up later, and also on the odd chance that a few readers might find them interesting.) 

Work as War. We’re in the Era of the ‘Top Gun’ C.E.O. 


Pritzker's Formulae To Spot An Idiot