Archive for film reviews

Film Review: Mind Over Money – $20 auction

NOVA has a new film called “Mind Over Money” where they show an auction for $20. The only catch is that the second highest bidder must pay the amount he bid, but gets nothing. In the end the winner pays something like $28 for the $20 bill and the second highest bidder pays $27 for nothing.

This is a neat exercise to do with a group of logical thinkers who are not allowed to communicate. They need to be given some quiet time to map out their strategy first. The result is a textbook example of “independent derivation”. Logical beings come to the same conclusion.

The only reason the auction turned out bad is because of speed and volume. Humans are trained to pit themselves against each other. I can assure you that within 1000 years (or 100,000 years, depending on how long speed and volume is sustained) this $20 auction will be played by children with an intellect comparable to contemporary 10-year-olds. They will have one person bid $1 and then split the $19 profit.

I accuse all 6.8 billion people alive today of being fact-based fools guilty of sustaining speed and volume. Be ashamed of yourselves.

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Film Review: “The Human Spark” – “So Human, So Chimp” Revisited

BO: When you reviewed “So Human, So Chimp”, you overlooked the fact that it is part 2 of a 3-part series called “The Human Spark”.

FH: Yes, and it concludes with the idea that what makes us unique is syntax, among other things.

BO: What other things?

FH: I’m more interested in the fact that it overlooks the most obvious answer, which is the strategic step.

BO: So you have a different opinion. That’s only human.

FH: Why don’t people just continue to believe that the sun circles around the earth? It won’t interfere with making a living, making friends, and leading a healthy, happy life.

BO: So you’re saying that from the perspective of a future historian, arriving at logically incorrect decisions is just as egregious as arriving at logically incorrect facts?

FH: No, the case of the future historian is stronger than that. Decision-based thinking will supersede fact-based thinking. The decisions have to be right. Whether you get the facts wrong is not important as long as incorrect facts don’t end up dominating over the true ones in the long run.

BO: Help the reader conceptualize this by being very specific and concrete.

FH: Nowadays when you join the workforce, whatever you do is extremely information-intensive. Fact-based thinking is rewarded and in fact has a 100% monopoly. If you’re an engineer, you need a vast body of knowledge to succeed. One day you work with a windows OS, another day with a Mac, and the next day with UNIX. Multiple standards are everywhere. Everything is vastly more complex than it needs to be. Just look at how many makes and models of cars we have, and they change the replacement parts they require constantly. They constantly come up with new technologies that usually serve more to place an additional burden on us than simplify life. I’ve seen a car mechanic lament in a forum that by the time a new technology has had enough time on the market where we can correct the major design defects, it’s already replaced with a new technology, so that we’re constantly sending our cars to the repair shop. Even without specialized knowledge in the field, it’s easy to see that power windows cause a tremendous maintenance burden, when manually powered windows were reliable and easy to use. As an individual, the best way to adapt is to absorb new information quickly, to process information quickly, to make quick decisions, and constantly move on to the next task and the next task and the next task. It’s a fact-based thinker’s paradise.

The predictable result is that society as a whole becomes extremely stupid and inefficient. There’s widespread agreement on something like the income tax code. Peter Schiff recently commented in his video blog that all these lawyers, accountants, IRS officials, etc who dedicate their lives to income taxes are a huge waste. We’d be better off abolishing it. How can you express such a thought and then fail to take the next logical strategic step, which is to apply the same reasoning to the rest of the economy? How can you understand that the tax system is a waste and then see nothing wrong with trying to keep a whole population employed at least 40 hours a week?

Clearly the next advance in our evolution has got to be that we learn to minimize complexity (in particular, the information burden placed on the highest level thinkers in the system, which is our brains). We should be high-level strategists, not low-level information-stuffers. I expect people to recoil in terror as they see how everyone willingly turns himself into a super-busy drone who is spectacularly productive in terms of the amount of information processed per hour or per day, but acts like a total dim-wit when it comes to strategic stepping.

Film Review: “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial”

PBS has an interesting video on creationism versus evolutionary theory. The film is surprisingly well-made and entertaining. But somehow it seems as if a much stronger case could be made for creationism.

BO: What’s your view on evolution in a nutshell?

FH: The world is a simulation created by the bogeyman, but this simulation tries very hard to make it appear as if evolutionary theory and for that matter, the whole scientific worldview is true. Since my thinking is decision-based, the fact-based question of whether evolution or creationism is in fact true is of little interest. Since I know I can rely on the simulation pretending that science is true, my decisions will be based on the scientific worldview anyway.

BO: What is the strongest argument against evolution?

FH: That’s a good question because in the film, the creationists try to come up with examples of things for which evolutionary theory has no explanation. The flagellum and the immune system are brought up as examples. These examples are easy to counter.

The question that I never hear adequately addressed is how and why beneficial mutations occur at a high enough ratio relative to disadvantageous mutations to make evolution possible. You would think that beneficial mutations are rare and if they do occur, the harmful mutations that occurred alongside would outweigh them. This problem could be overcome if mutations are rare enough, but then you need a lot of time. Given the vast literature in evolution and my relative ignorance, it’s quite possible that this gets addressed in many places, but I think it should be part of any introductory treatment on the subject. I haven’t seen this discussed in the numerous works I’ve read that were geared towards laymen.

Evolution makes more intuitive sense for, say, bacteria because they have such short life spans and are so great in number. But our species evolved from monkeys over a period of around 6 million years and our population size has been rather small during most of that time. Given that our peak reproductive age is around 15-20 years, that’s not a whole lot of time. There are something like 3 million places in our DNA that are different from individual to individual. A recurring theme in evolutionary history is that evolution tends to occur in brief spurts rather than in a slow, gradual process. Intuitively, it just doesn’t make sense.

Let’s do a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation. Say, there’s a tribe with 50 people in it. They make 25 children over a couple of years, but because of the high infant mortality, only 10 survive. These 10 children differ in millions of places in their genetic code. You would think that a random mutation is more likely to be harmful. It is, after all, a mistake in replication, not a change that an intelligent planner came up with. So if one of these children has the ability to digest cow’s milk (the ability to digest cow’s milk is a favorite example given by evolutionists to show how quickly beneficial traits spread through a population), it’s hard to see how this trait makes much of a difference.

It’s hard enough to believe that a single genetic mutation has a good chance of spreading. For us to develop the ability to speak, it presumably took a number of coordinated changes to give us a useful result. Well, maybe over billions of years, it’ll eventually happen, but when you’re dealing with a time frame on the order of a million years it seems like a leap of faith to believe it happened randomly.

Today, we have millions of software engineers who try to use their intelligence to produce complex instructions for our computers. Getting them to work in a beneficial way is painstaking work and requires horrendous amounts of time to remove the flaws. How evolution manages to create working systems vastly more complex with relative ease seems like the single greatest question begging for an explanation.

BO: But if the bogeyman controls the simulation, why doesn’t he simply adjust the numbers (such as the amount of time we’ve been evolving) so they’re more plausible?

FH: Maybe our evolution is so unlikely that it’s like winning the lottery a billion times in a row. Maybe it takes a googol universes each with 100 billion galaxies containing 100 billion stars to make it happen without divine intervention.

BO: What are the most important thoughts that went through your mind watching the movie, whether or not they’re related to evolution?

FH: The educational system (which, of course, includes parents, the mass media, churches, the economy, etc, that is to say, all of society) doesn’t produce enough interesting variations among our youth. All you get is a bunch of clones who differ from each other in the most irrelevant ways possible and then they celebrate that as diversity and individuality.

BO: There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of ambition on the part of people. So many dream of being the next revolutionaries.

Film review: “So Human, So Chimp”

Yesterday, while writing my last entry (Hopelessly Conformist), I looked for the “Ape Genius” video on PBS, so I could include the link in my post. At first, I found the wrong video. It was called “So Human, So Chimp”. After watching this movie (http://video.pbs.org/video/1383599160/), Brian O’Connor asked me about it.

Brian O’Connor: What did you think of “So Human, So Chimp”?

Future Historian: Well, first of all, a more appropriate title would have been “Like Chimp, Like Human”, except that I agree with Jared Diamond (author of The Third Chimpanzee) that we’re really just one of the three species of chimps on this planet: regular chimps, pygmy chimps (i.e. bonobos), and human chimps.

Movies like “Ape Genius” and “So Human, So Chimp” are extremely annoying in showing humans’ exaggerated opinions of themselves. Instead of using the contrast between humans and other primates as motivation to make fuller use of our mental abilities, the humans in these films are satisfied observing how much smarter we are.

BO: Stop talking in such vague and general terms.

FH: One idea that was repeated a few times near the end of the movie is that humans are clearly more collaborative than other apes because we create cities, governments, religions, bla bla bla.

BO: On what basis, does the film claim that apes are not as collaborative? They’re social animals, like us.

FH: I guess, the thinking is that some of the chimps try to attack humans, especially strangers who come near them. (The humans are protected by a transparent wall, so no one gets hurt.) The human reporter and the scientist remarked that they were collaborating in creating this film even though they had never met each other before, something the chimps would be unable to to do.

BO: And on what basis do you claim that humans are equally uncollaborative?

FH: That’s not hard to demonstrate. Just compare the sexual behavior of bonobos and humans. Humans are far more possessive and controlling, and exhibit an extreme unwillingness to share sexual partners.

BO: Why do you use a relatively minor aspect of life as a counterexample? What about the cities, governments, and religions we create?

FH: I don’t think it is minor at all. I think it’s a big part of the reason why 90% of GDP is useless. The worldwide obsession with GDP and jobs growth is better thought of as a symptom of us competing for sexual privileges.

BO: Hold it there one second. Are you saying that if humans were as sexually promiscuous as the bonobos, our economies would collapse?

FH: Absolutely. This is a very important driving force of the world economy. The true reasons people go to work is far different from what they imagine them to be.

Now regarding the cities, governments, and religions, no humans have ever purposely formed a group and decided to collaborate by saying “let’s create a city, government, or religion”. They are primarily things that emerge without a conscious decision. Besides, how many people do you know whom you would credit with a significant scientific or political achievement?

If humans were a collaborative species, then socialist and communist economies would have trumped free market capitalism, which needlessly pits us against each other.

BO: Was there anything else that stood out in the film?

FH: The film mentioned the adage “monkey see, monkey do”. Ironically, the experiments in both films show that it is characteristically human to mimic behaviors, whereas other apes are more likely to accomplish tasks in their own way.