Sunday, March 23, 2008


Quotes are from a friend's note on facebook, thanks Christina.

"you see, they say if you die in your dream, then you're dead in real life"coz the body can't survive without the mind" - they said it in the matrix"

You see, when you die in your dream, then you are dead in that dream, in that life, in that real life.

You don't experience that death. You don't experience death. Ever.

You just awake, in a new world. With a new history. A new place in time.

"i keep dreamin about dying"

Maybe you keep living about dying.

I dream
I live

I dream about dying
I live about dying

Is there any practical difference in those pairs? Yes there is an obvious pragmatic difference, but what is the difference between dreaming death, and living death?

If you sit there screaming you can't live death - wake up - you can't dream death either.

How do you know you are dreaming?

I ask, how do you know you are living?

You state you have been conscious of dreaming before.

I note I am conscious that I am living now.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Apologies, but...

Sorry guys, but some posts have had to be removed. This is after taking advice from a lawyer and members of the philosophy department at HKU. I intend to pursue the work I described on here in more depth and will definitely inform you when a more formal format of it is available.

I sincerely apologise for having to take the posts down and as a result your comments. I would like to explicitly thank Robert Iddiols and Jenny for their participation in those threads, I will keep you updated and give further information to you personally if you contact me.

I am now entering reading week at HKU and will not be jetting off travelling. Therefore, I hope to be able to dedicate a short bit of time every day to update this blog with some interesting posts.

Monday, February 25, 2008

No time to think?

The other day I was getting frustrated with my PC - its a Dell inspiron 1300, probably 2 and a bit years old and working like a snail. The internet I use here at the University of Hong Kong isn't exactly lightning speed either and does have the odd habit of randomly shutting itself down. It was thus that I started thinking about how much time I, or anyone, could actually save if there was absolutely no waiting around involved in using a PC. No start-up time, no login time, no loading new windows, no bloody McAfee virus protector downloader, or you need to renew your subscription reminders (on another note I really think anti-virus and the such actually just slow your PC down more than the viruses would...). Everything would just happen instantly.

But then I realised that the whole reason I even have this blog, that the only reason I even had that thought, was because of those tiny delays in the use of my PC that allow me to pause and reflect. Without those delays would I have no time to think?

The fact that I see little hope in free will does really effect how seriously I take this. If I had no delay and just had an absolute continuous stream of input/output in the continually evolving path I was taking, I really would just be a robot at a computer. The fact that there are breaks allows conveniently for a return into my illusion of free will, to toss around events, as opposed to being instantly hit by the next input I was searching for.

Out with faster technology - I need time to think!

I was sitting cursing and tapping at my PC earlier today as I tried to rush off a philosophy essay in order to get it in before the deadline, I would have paid for faster technology in a flash then.

PS - read the other day 'time' is the most used noun in the english language.

PPS - could I use 'postscript' instead of PS, or would people just think I was being pretentious?

Post-post-postscript - I am trying some keyword heavy internal linking to promote my blogs - university career and does truth matter. Apologies for the outrageous spam.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Undiscovered Species

Not sure what triggered this post, but as you will see it is something I think about regularly. It may have originally been in an eye-opening attempt for God-of-the-Gap type argument’s proponents, with particular reference to attacks on the incomplete fossil record.

I’ve always said that it is dangerous turf to sit on considering it continually gets torn off.

Only a very few organisms that die end up preserved as fossils, but these lucky finds have led to instances where we have a number of fossils over many years that show small, gradual changes between each one. Again, this is not the only example, there are many examples of fossils from different time periods that show a gradual, incremental change to their phenotype; just take the most famous fossil of them all, the Archaeopteryx – the bird/reptile, with feathers! However, what paleontology cannot provide is a perfect set of transitional fossils for every single fossil that we do have, and this is what creationist advocates jump on.

What percentage of the earths crust do you actually think we have searched for fossils? I would bet under 0.01% of it, and I am being extremely conservative.

The vast numbers of fossils that are in the ground just waiting to be discovered is nicely demonstrated by the fact we haven’t even discovered all the species alive on this planet, in this day and age – by a long way. Now the usual suspects to fill these criteria are plants found in remote areas, however this is not always the case. Just last November, a 4ft long mammalian pig-like creature was discovered in the Amazon forest in Brazil! If we can’t discover living fossils running around on all fours plain for us to see, I have no idea how we will find every deeply hidden fossil!

Now I couldn’t find evidence in a 2-minute search for the mammalian pig; however, I found a few examples to illustrate my point. Take this 700g elephant shrew or perhaps this pygmy possum and giant rat.

Ok ok - so what are a few isolated incidents? Sorry but this sea life search or perhaps 11 new species in Vietnam and even thousands of new species found around an island 400 miles off Manila in the Philippines might prove that although they are found in generally isolated places, the world has a million isolated places. Don't trust me - search for yourself, all these instances were from the last few months and from a very limited source. I didn't even tell you about the giant 9-foot spitting cobra, either.

I would personally guestimate that over a million undiscovered species inhabit this planet with us. What greater meaning this has for us I am still contemplating. Perhaps millions of new medicines? But it is a well advocated estimation that over 99.9% of all the species that have ever lived are now extinct - so why should we care if a few more pass away unnoticed?

Perhaps because we are the cause of this mankind-led extinction. We have all read about the mass extinction of the dinosaurs by a meteorite (whether we believe it or not), but fewer of us realise we are currently in another mass extinction, caused by you and I, and at over 1000 times the background rate - the normal extinction rate.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

the Progress Check

The Progress Check is another blog I have where I post much more detailed articles. Not for the faint-hearted.

First is Problems of Truth, Names & Certainty, an enquiry into the question - what is knowledge? I recommend reading the link to the paper by Gettier before mine; it is extremely famous and notably very short; it will also provide a short introduction to my paper.

Next is Are Evolutionary Theory and Intelligent Design compatible?, which is based upon a critique of a discussion between Plantinga in: When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible and McMullin in: Plantinga's Defense of Special Creation. Anyone with an interest in this modern issue would find these a worthy, if slightly lengthy, read.

I am sorry for the over-load of links, I just learnt how to do them! I will be expanding tomorrow on economic cooperation with hopefully some context that we can all empathise with.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Economics of Cooperation

This post is going to require at least a basic knowledge of the prisoner’s dilemma (PD) and moreover what is so special about the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. However, I hope it has some interesting points even for those who know nothing about it, and cannot be bothered to do any research.

The IPD allows punishment and reward for behaviour, and it allows participants to learn and create a reputation. These factors were enforced when Robert Axelrod[i] conducted experiments where computer programs were pitched against each other in an IPD. The winner was Anatol Rapoport’s program TIT FOR TAT, which has yet to be beaten by another single program (a multiple program entry involving slaves and masters did beat it), even when tested against hundreds of programs designed specifically in the knowledge of its success. The triumph of TIT FOR TAT was thought to be down to the following characteristics (as stated on page 110 of ref. (1)):
1) Don’t be envious
2) Don’t be the first to defect
3) Reciprocate both cooperation and defection
4) Don’t be too clever
These points outline how successful economic behaviour should be conducted, and relies on the knowledge that the PD is not a zero-sum game, that is whatever someone gains the other does not stand to lose, or vice versa. Therefore, by point one, you should not worry if your immediate competitor is beating you, it’s the long run that matters. By point two you should not be the first to defect – again in the long run the punishments (loss of reputation for example) would outweigh the short term benefit. Point three shows how you should be retaliatory and forgiving, by this you will not be abused by exploitative institutions, and you will quickly forgive single instances of provocation (or in TIT FOR TAT’s case, any instance - another of its virtues was its short memory). Point four shows how you shouldn’t be too clever when evaluating economic behaviour, for instance in a “zero-sum game, such as chess, we can safely use the assumption that the other player will pick the most dangerous move that can be found, and we can act accordingly.” In this situation it pays to be as complicated and multifaceted in an analysis as possible. However, your opponent your economic behaviour effects is not out to defeat you. Also, if you are too complex your opponent may think you are unresponsive and acting randomly.

Indeed examples of the PD are found throughout life, and notably, the ensuing theme of all these is that mutually cooperating is of most benefit to everyone. As a last example, take the ‘live and let live’ system that was endemic in trench warfare in WWI, soldiers would only shoot to wound their enemy, in the hope the action would be returned. In this way a system of reciprocity became a natural part of trench warfare and, if cooperation can evolve out of warfare, maybe everyone should take the time to examine the PD and realise the benefits its implications could have for our world.

[i] Axelrod, Robert – The evolution of co-operation. Penguin books. 1984.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pollution threatening Beijing Olympics

Days after Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, commented on how there may be up to 2 day delays in some events at the 2008 Olympics beginning next August, Beijing’s highways were closed as visibility was reduced to 50m in areas after smog engulfed the city.

The Beijing organizers of the games insist that pollution will be curbed by shutting down factories before and during the games, and banning the use of cars. China recently held a voluntary ‘no-car day’ of which Beijing was a participant gaining mild success.

Experts note how the effects of dumping cars go beyond pollution preventing and energy conservation—it actually saves millions of Yuan spent on petrol.

Beijing is moving thousands of homes heating systems from coal to gas but spectators still speculate whether it will be enough. With the Olympics timetable being so confined (8th—24th August), and so many events at stake, pollution could seriously hinder whether the games is viewed as a success - something China is adamant to prove it can do.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A World of Opportunity

If only you open your eyes.

I was recently sad to hear the story of a HKU psychology undergraduate, who, due to his degree felt the only fields open for his future career were education and research!

This is a backward view reiterated around the campus, by students and staff alike and it couldn’t be further from the truth. All one has to do is attend a graduate recruitment campus presentation by a corporation to hear the immortal words—”We recruit from any degree background”. A stunned silence ensues over the—90% economics/finance/business based—audience before one dares to check, “so we all start at the same level, regardless of the discipline?”

Yes. What you will quickly realise when you start working is that your degree and even your MBA will be essentially useless unless your job is very specialized; it is the skills that you have gained around your studies that employers are after—companies can easily teach you finance, they can’t so easily change your abilities or personality.

Don’t let your degree limit you, and for all you E&F&A&B majors out there—watch your backs, your job is by no means guaranteed.