Monday, May 30, 2011

The Origin of Religion

The religions of complex societies seem to be quite different from those of primitive societies.  In particular, these religions of the complex societies have gods that require worship and appeasement.  Moreover, they form much of the social glue that hold societies together.  New evidence from archeology clarifies how this process occurred.  Via Tyler Cowen, this National Geographic article by Charles C Mann lays out the case that organized religion predated agriculture:

Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt's way of thinking, suggests a reversal of that scenario: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it. When foragers began settling down in villages, they unavoidably created a divide between the human realm—a fixed huddle of homes with hundreds of inhabitants—and the dangerous land beyond the campfire, populated by lethal beasts.


French archaeologist Jacques Cauvin believed this change in consciousness was a "revolution of symbols," a conceptual shift that allowed humans to imagine gods—supernatural beings resembling humans—that existed in a universe beyond the physical world. Schmidt sees Göbekli Tepe as evidence for Cauvin's theory. "The animals were guardians to the spirit world," he says. "The reliefs on the T-shaped pillars illustrate that other world."

This conceptual shift plausibly gave birth to agriculture, civilization, science, and technology.  An interesting story, including some climate change.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Genealogy of Morals, Essay 2

it is only the bad conscience, only the will for self-abuse, that provides the necessary conditions for the existence of altruism as a value.
.............Nietzsche, Friedrich (2010). On the Genealogy of Morals (A Modernized Translation with a New Introduction and Biography) (p. 87). Kindle Edition.

Nietzsche's anaysis of punishment and conscience is quite penetrating. He argues convincingly that conscience does not originate in punishment, instead arguing that it is imposed on the populace as a condition of civilization. In his view, the imposer is his magical creative conquerors, but I think that part is his typical romantic nonsense.

I am surprised that he does not see its origin in the more primitive notion of shame - a fundamental social instinct far predating civilization, though FN would have been unlikely to have known that.

Something like shame actually seems to exist in other social animals such as dogs and chimpanzees. As social animals, it behooves us to have a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, or at least our immediate group.

To me it seems odd that Nietzsche would not pick up on that, but if he was in fact somewhat autistic, he might not have picked up on the fundamental role of that central social signal.

Collective Action: Getting the Lead Out

Kevin Drum reads James Q. Wilson on the decline of violent crime in the last couple of decades.

Crime guru James Q. Wilson surveys the evidence for why violent crime rates have dropped so dramatically over the past two decades. The state of the economy, he says, seems to have little to do with it:

The biggest effect seems to be due to getting rid of lead based paints, so that kids have less lead in their developing brains.  Bottom line:

So if I can put words into Wilson's mouth, the decline in crime is perhaps one-quarter due to increased incarceration, one-quarter due to reduced cocaine use, and one half due to reductions in blood lead levels in children.


Note that getting rid of lead based paints and reducing cocaine use are both the kinds of actions libertarians abhor.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Air France Flight 447

Suppose you found yourself in the cockpit of an airliner showing signs of stall and plunging rapidly toward the ground.  If you had never had a single flying lesson, and hadn't read about flying, you might be excused - but not forgiven - for pulling back on the stick to try to gain altitude.  Why would three professional pilots, presumably trained from their earliest flight experiences on how to deal with a stall by pointing the plane down, make that kind of error?  Yet that seems to be exactly the error they did make.

Cruising at 35,000 feet and nearly four hours into what seemed a routine overnight flight to Paris from Rio de Janeiro, an Air France cockpit crew got a stall warning and responded by doing what even weekend pilots know to avoid: They yanked the nose of the plane up instead of pointing it down to gain essential speed.


Apparently confused by repeated stall warnings and reacting to wildly fluctuating airspeed indications, pilots of Flight 447 continued to pull back sharply on the controls—contrary to standard procedure—even as the Airbus A330 plummeted toward the Atlantic Ocean, according to information released Friday by French accident investigators. The June 2009 crash took the lives of all 228 on board.


Andy Pasztor and Daniel Michaels' Wall Street Journal story, linked above, points the finger at aircraft automation.


The introduction of automation has made flying dramatically safer over the years. In the U.S., for instance, fatal accident rates are at record lows. But if pilots are taught to abdicate too much responsibility to automated systems, essential piloting skills can dull and aviators become too reliant on computers in emergencies.

That's particularly troublesome if onboard flight-control computers malfunction, disconnect or, as in the case of Flight 447, give conflicting information and warnings to pilots. "Pilots are starting to serve the automation, not the automation serving the pilots," said Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation of Alexandria, Va., an independent advocacy group championing enhanced training. "It's almost like we have to train the pilots to know how to triage these situations."

Well duh!  If the pilots are there only to deal with the emergencies, maybe that's what they ought to be trained to deal with!

In many ways this is similar to the recent crash near Buffalo NY where pilots made essentially the same fatal mistake.

Or maybe it would just be better to program the autopilots to deal with the emergencies - at least they wouldn't panic.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Frenzification

I remain a fan of The Big Bang Theory but I really can't approve this Freindzification trend this year. 

I think I prefer more Big Bang physics and less indiscriminate banging of each other.

Watch Yourselves, Steve J and Bill G

It seems that Mark Zuckerberg is stoking his blood lust.

Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, has started slaughtering his own food, including slicing the throat of a goat with a knife, as part of a sustainable living project . . .


Rare Variants

Let us consider another surprisingly common “rare” variant of human nature: the psychopath. Yes, I have been thinking about Jon Ronson’s new book, The Psychopath Test. My interest was piqued when I caught an interview with him on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. As is my want, I saw some connections to my thoughts about Asperger’s and to Rand and Nietzsche.

From the standpoint of society, psychopaths are a major nuisance. The make up a rather large fraction of the prison population and commit a large fraction of the most serious crimes. Even when they don’t commit crimes, they tend to leave large trails of devastation behind them. Estimates are that psychopaths constitute about 1 % of the total population – a surprisingly large fraction unless psychopathy either is associated with some selective advantage or results from a common developmental accident.

You might note that I assume that being a psychopath is an organic condition. The evidence supports that idea in a few ways. Psychopathy is believed to be permanent and, at least at present, incurable. There is evidence from blood flow imagery associating it with abnormal function of the amygdala, those organs of the brain which appear to perform a crucial role in emotional learning. Core characteristics of the psychopath include lack of empathy and especially lack of a conscience.

At a more physical level, psychopaths react very abnormally to punishment and the threat of punishment. They don’t seem to be able to remember punishment or the discomfort it caused them. These notions, and many others, are explored in this excerpt from Ronson’s book. Ronson seems to be a pretty interesting character himself, and is clearly drawn to the study of the oddballs among us. His most famous previous book, or at least the only one I had heard of, is The Men Who Stare at Goats – also the title of the great George Clooney movie adapted from it.

Just in case you might be wondering whether your neighbor across the street/in the next cubicle might be a psychopath, or whether you might be one yourself, here is a handy check list – in fact *the test* of Ronson’s title. (Score each with a 0, 1 or 2).

Item 1 Glibness/superficial charm

Item 2 Grandiose sense of self-worth

Item 3 Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom

Item 4 Pathological lying

Item 5 Cunning/manipulative

Item 6 Lack of remorse or guilt

Item 7 Shallow affect

Item 8 Callous/lack of empathy

Item 9 Parasitic lifestyle

Item 10 Poor behavioural controls

Item 11 Promiscuous sexual behaviour

Item 12 Early behaviour problems

Item 13 Lack of realistic long-term goals

Item 14 Impulsivity

Item 15 Irresponsibility

Item 16 Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Item 17 Many short-term marital relationships

Item 18 Juvenile delinquency

Item 19 Revocation of conditional release

Item 20 Criminal versatility




Ronson’s commentary:

Over the three-day course in Wales, my scepticism drained away entirely and I became a Hare devotee. I think the other sceptics felt the same. He was very convincing. I was attaining a new power, like a secret weapon. I felt like a different person, a hardliner, not confused or out of my depth as I had been when I'd been hanging around with Tony in Broadmoor. Instead, I was contemptuous of those naive people who allowed themselves to be taken in by slick-tongued psychopaths.

My mind drifted to what I could do with my new powers. If I'm being honest, it didn't cross my mind to become some kind of great crime fighter, philanthropically dedicated to making society a safer place. Instead, I made a mental list of all the people who over the years had crossed me and wondered which of them I might be able to expose as having psychopathic character traits. Top of the list was AA Gill, who had always been very rude about my television documentaries and had written a restaurant column in which he admitted to killing a baboon on safari.

"Item 8 Callous/lack of empathy," I thought, and smiled to myself.


How about Newt Gingrich? I wondered.

I don't think Nietzschean superguys would get a very low score either.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Genealogy of Morals

Prefaces and Essay 1.

In essay I, Nietzsche applies his historical and philological method to the meanings of "good" and "evil."  He argues that there original sense was assigned by an aristocratic class of conquerors, and that "good" was synonymous with strength, health, high birth and military vigor, whereas "evil" applied to the conquered - the weak, the ill-born, and the slaves.  Over time, he says, the resentment of the slaves gradually won a victory whereby "good" became associated with the decadent values of the Sermon on the Mount - poverty, humility, weakness, etc.

Nietzsche's aristocratic infatuation was great enough that he fabricated a noble ancestry for himself - one utterly unfounded in reality.  That infatuation, combined with his obsession with race, violence and decadence was the source of much of the poison in this book.  For me, almost every intellectual element of Nazism is here: the master race, the Aryan race, contrasted with slave races, especially the Jews.  Blood poisoning and the two-thousand year plot of the Jews to undermine and corrupt the ruling race.  The emphasis on violence as the remedy for the decadence of the Jewish slave morality.

To be sure, what Nietzsche meant by "Jews" was not exactly what Hitler meant - Christians were pretty much the same as Jews in most of these contexts.

These ingredients spoil any intellectual appreciation of Nietzsche's achievements for me.  Ayn Rand never acknowledged her debt to Nietzsche, but the intellectual content of her ideas owes almost everything to Nietzsche, though she blended it with a dim romanticism that would likely have turned his stomach.

Why Can't I Log on to Blogger From IE8?

WTF?

Monday, May 23, 2011

F W Nietzsche Liveblogs the Robot Revolution

Zarathustra, Prologue 3.


When Zarathustra arrived at the nearest town which adjoineth the forest, he found many people assembled in the market-place; for it had been announced that a rope-dancer would give a performance. And Zarathustra spake thus unto the people:

I TEACH YOU THE SUPERMAN. Man is something that is to be surpassed. What have ye done to surpass man?

All beings hitherto have created something beyond themselves: and ye want to be the ebb of that great tide, and would rather go back to the beast than surpass man?

What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame.

Ye have made your way from the worm to man, and much within you is still worm. Once were ye apes, and even yet man is more of an ape than any of the apes.

Even the wisest among you is only a disharmony and hybrid of plant and phantom. But do I bid you become phantoms or plants?

Lo, I teach you the Superman!

The Superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: The Superman SHALL BE the meaning of the earth!

I conjure you, my brethren, REMAIN TRUE TO THE EARTH, and believe not those who speak unto you of superearthly hopes! Poisoners are they, whether they know it or not.

Despisers of life are they, decaying ones and poisoned ones themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so away with them!

Once blasphemy against God was the greatest blasphemy; but God died, and therewith also those blasphemers. To blaspheme the earth is now the dreadfulest sin, and to rate the heart of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth!

Once the soul looked contemptuously on the body, and then that contempt was the supreme thing:—the soul wished the body meagre, ghastly, and famished. Thus it thought to escape from the body and the earth.

Oh, that soul was itself meagre, ghastly, and famished; and cruelty was the delight of that soul!

But ye, also, my brethren, tell me: What doth your body say about your soul? Is your soul not poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency?

Verily, a polluted stream is man. One must be a sea, to receive a polluted stream without becoming impure.

Lo, I teach you the Superman: he is that sea; in him can your great contempt be submerged.

What is the greatest thing ye can experience? It is the hour of great contempt. The hour in which even your happiness becometh loathsome unto you, and so also your reason and virtue.

The hour when ye say: "What good is my happiness! It is poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency. But my happiness should justify existence itself!"

The hour when ye say: "What good is my reason! Doth it long for knowledge as the lion for his food? It is poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency!"

The hour when ye say: "What good is my virtue! As yet it hath not made me passionate. How weary I am of my good and my bad! It is all poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency!"

The hour when ye say: "What good is my justice! I do not see that I am fervour and fuel. The just, however, are fervour and fuel!"

The hour when ye say: "What good is my pity! Is not pity the cross on which he is nailed who loveth man? But my pity is not a crucifixion."

Have ye ever spoken thus? Have ye ever cried thus? Ah! would that I had heard you crying thus!

It is not your sin—it is your self-satisfaction that crieth unto heaven; your very sparingness in sin crieth unto heaven!

Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the frenzy with which ye should be inoculated?

Lo, I teach you the Superman: he is that lightning, he is that frenzy!—

When Zarathustra had thus spoken, one of the people called out: "We have now heard enough of the rope-dancer; it is time now for us to see him!" And all the people laughed at Zarathustra. But the rope-dancer, who thought the words applied to him, began his performance.

4.

Zarathustra, however, looked at the people and wondered. Then he spake thus:

Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman—a rope over an abyss.

A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting.

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an OVER-GOING and a DOWN-GOING.

I love those that know not how to live except as down-goers, for they are the over-goers.

I love the great despisers, because they are the great adorers, and arrows of longing for the other shore.

I love those who do not first seek a reason beyond the stars for going down and being sacrifices, but sacrifice themselves to the earth, that the earth of the Superman may hereafter arrive.

I love him who liveth in order to know, and seeketh to know in order that the Superman may hereafter live. Thus seeketh he his own down-going.

I love him who laboureth and inventeth, that he may build the house for the Superman, and prepare for him earth, animal, and plant: for thus seeketh he his own down-going.

I love him who loveth his virtue: for virtue is the will to down-going, and an arrow of longing.

I love him who reserveth no share of spirit for himself, but wanteth to be wholly the spirit of his virtue: thus walketh he as spirit over the bridge.

I love him who maketh his virtue his inclination and destiny: thus, for the sake of his virtue, he is willing to live on, or live no more.

I love him who desireth not too many virtues. One virtue is more of a virtue than two, because it is more of a knot for one's destiny to cling to.

I love him whose soul is lavish, who wanteth no thanks and doth not give back: for he always bestoweth, and desireth not to keep for himself.

I love him who is ashamed when the dice fall in his favour, and who then asketh: "Am I a dishonest player?"—for he is willing to succumb.

I love him who scattereth golden words in advance of his deeds, and always doeth more than he promiseth: for he seeketh his own down-going.

I love him who justifieth the future ones, and redeemeth the past ones: for he is willing to succumb through the present ones.

I love him who chasteneth his God, because he loveth his God: for he must succumb through the wrath of his God.

I love him whose soul is deep even in the wounding, and may succumb through a small matter: thus goeth he willingly over the bridge.

I love him whose soul is so overfull that he forgetteth himself, and all things are in him: thus all things become his down-going.

I love him who is of a free spirit and a free heart: thus is his head only the bowels of his heart; his heart, however, causeth his down-going.

I love all who are like heavy drops falling one by one out of the dark cloud that lowereth over man: they herald the coming of the lightning, and succumb as heralds.

Lo, I am a herald of the lightning, and a heavy drop out of the cloud: the lightning, however, is the SUPERMAN.—

Sunday, May 22, 2011

FYI

I have decided not to seek the Republican nomination for the Presidency this (2012) election cycle.

Bee Killers?

Microwave radiation levels in cities today are roughly one million times the ambient levels in pre-electronic times.  Are honeybees the canaries in this coal mine?

Cellphone transmissions may be responsible for a mysterious, worldwide die off in bees that has mystified scientists. Dr. Daniel Favre, a former biologist with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, carefully placed a mobile phone underneath a beehive and then monitored the reaction of the workers. According to a story in The Daily Mail, the bees were able to tell when the handsets were making and receiving calls. They responded by making the high pitched squeaks that usually signal the start of swarming. "This study shows that the presence of an active mobile phone disturbs bees -- and has a dramatic effect," Favre told the Daily Mail.

We report ...

EOTW

Since the World apparently did not end last night, I suppose I ought to do some laundry.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Beyond

I am now beyond Beyond Good and Evil.  As predicted by Wolfgang, I don't "get" Nietzsche.  Whether those more righty in in orientation would get him I'm not sure.  Hitler was a fan, but it's not clear that he actually read him. Rand read him and borrowed heavily from him but insisted on lying about it.

Advice to others inclined to read Nietzsche: don't start with BG&E.  I have dipped into Genealogy of Morals, and it seems much more digestible.  Nietzsche says to start with Ecce Homo and Zarathustra is another pre-req.

Among the memorable Nietzsche quotations is one from the latter: 

Thou goest to women? Do not forget thy whip.

What he had in mind might be guessed from the famous photo on the cover of my (virtual) copy of Genealogy - a picture of Lou Salome kneeling in a cart, wielding a whip, with Nietzsche and Paul Ree standing in for the donkeys.

Math, Science and Autism

The link between autism spectrum and scientific talent seems to be as controversial as ever. I recommend this article to Lee, Arun, and Wolfgang particularly. Some excerpts:

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen has spent much of his career championing the positive side of autism. His most recent finding, to be published shortly in the Journal of Human Nature, is that talented mathematicians are at least twice as likely as the general population to have the condition. He also found, by comparing maths undergraduates at Cambridge University with undergraduates of other disciplines (law, medicine), that mathematicians are more likely than students of other subjects to have a sibling or parent with autism.

That, he says, points to genetics: his theory is that there is a group of genes that codes for both mathematical ability and autism. “This association between maths and autism keeps cropping up,” he says. Finding these maths genes could be a milestone on the way to finding the genes associated with autism. He would now like to recruit Times readers to help him find these genes. He has DNA from people who are good at maths but he would now like to be contacted by readers who are good at English but have always been numerically challenged.

Baron-Cohen has previously found that autism is much more common among engineers than in the general population. It is no coincidence: mathematics and engineering are very ordered, rigorous disciplines in which there is usually a right answer.

In Baron-Cohen’s framework, they are “systemising” disciplines as opposed to “empathising” disciplines such as counselling. Autism arises, he says, when our capacity for empathising is impaired, but our capacity to systemise is intact or even enhanced. This leads to the popular “Rain Man” notion of autism, in which individuals cannot “read” others but show striking intellect in other ways, such as mathematical ability, musical talent or artistic flair. They may also be able to recite calendrical facts, railway timetables or remember details with photographical precision.

Baron-Cohen is not some fringe nut. He is a University of Cambridge Professor and has more than 250 peer reviewed publications, with well over 10,000 citations.

Take That, Amy Chua

Andrew Sullivan finds this:

Lynda Sharpe roots it out:
Plunk two little rats together and it’s almost impossible to stop them whooping it up. But thwart a young rat’s zeal for play (by rearing it alone or with drugged companions that won’t play) and you create an adult that loses its cool in social situations. When things start getting edgy, play-deprived rats either succumb to rat-rage or scarper, quaking, to a corner. And the lack of play is responsible, because if you let an isolated rat fool around for just one hour daily, it turns into a normal chilled dude
 

Re the Tiger Mom, though, I have since met a former law student of hers who said that (a)she has her own group of devoted students, usually called the "Chua Pets," and (2) is known around the law school as a soft touch.

Autism Spectrum Miscelleany & TBD

One popular theory of Autism posits that it is a defect of the mirror neurons.  Here as elsewhere, the evidence is contradictory.  According to various studies, in Autistics the mirror neuron system is either deficient, normal, or developmentally delayed.

The genetic evidence is also confusing.  A large number of genes appear to be associated with the autism spectrum, but none seem to be definitive.  In some cases, it appears that genetic changes not shared with the parents are involved.  Others have peculiar behavior, in that an allele inherited from father may act differently than one inherited from the mother.

Bottom line: this is not yet understood, but evidence is accumulating rapidly.

My guess is that it will turn out to be several independent conditions that are only catastrophic when to many of them occur together. 

Finally, Arun has suggested, probably in jest, that the reason several commentators (himself included), object to the topic is that they might have AS.  You can still take the test and find out!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Double-Edged

If there is anything evolution ought to be good at, it’s eliminating harmful genes. There at least a few genes in our pool, though, which are surprisingly common despite being very harmful. The classic example is sickle cell anemia. At least before modern medicine, if you got two copies of the sickle cell gene, you were very likely to die early from sickle cell anemia. Having one copy, however, tended to make the symptoms of malaria milder and make surviving it more likely. This double edged quality helped this otherwise purely harmful gene survive and prosper. You might ask your intelligent designer friends to explain that, though no doubt they have some BS answer.

I want to consider the surprising results of a recent South Korean study in the light of the above.

In the first study to take a broad-population look at the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders — types of autism ranging from severe symptoms to the milder Asperger's syndrome — researchers found a rate of 2.64% among South Korean children. That's 1 in 38 children, a rate far higher than the estimate of 1 in 110 children for the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, being published Monday in the American Journal of Psychiatry, suggests that, under rigorous examination, many more children may be affected than previously suspected.

Even the more conventional 1% value seems to show that incidence of autism is far higher than one would expect from random genetic mutation. Autism is known to be at least partially genetic, but its genetic basis is complex and nonstandard, with at least some indication that the genetic changes involved are not always present in the parents but occur before conception, during formation of egg and /or sperm.


Of course it’s still possible that this is purely accidental damage to a particularly delicate or susceptible part of the genome, but I remain curious about the possibility that this is another example of a double-edged genetic effect of the sort that leads to all our aphorisms about the fine line between genius and madness. The strongest evidence of that is the large number of the exceptionally accomplished who show some traits.


I have previously annoyed my readers with my speculations about acknowledged geniuses who appeared to display a lot of autistic spectrum traits. Real life diagnoses are available only for the very recent of course, but the list includes a lot of the very accomplished. I don’t think that I have learned anything to date that make it less likely that some autistic traits can facilitate genius. For the worst afflicted though, it’s a devastating disease, and even for the geniuses it often seems a painful burden.

Fatal Tell

Would you want to know when you are going to die, or at least when the physical decrepitude of age will overwhelm you? It seems that there is a message, if not exactly to the main, at least to sophisticated molecular analytic engines, written in your cells.

For the most part, we live longer than our individual cells. Cells are constantly breaking down, being shed, and replaced by the products of new cell division. There is a problem with the replication of chromosomes that takes place prior to cell division however, in that the enzymes that mediate it cannot fully replicate the ends of the chromosomes. Consequently, in order to protect us from losing genes with every division, our chromosomes are equipped with special end caps, called telomeres. Cell division does shorten these telomeres however, and this limits the number of times a cell can divide. Consequently, every cell division is a step toward ultimate doom.

You might want to ask why the Intelligent Designer would play such a nasty trick on us, aside from pure mean-spiritedness. The best answer, I think, is that it is a line of defense against the uncontrolled cell proliferation of cancer. If a group a cells starts proliferating out of control, it will run into the blockade of telomere shortening, and die – unless, of course, as cancer cells do, it learns the trick for avoiding that trap.

Back to our story though, it seems that companies are now advertising a test that will check the length of your telomeres, and hence predict how long you might live if you manage to avoid other catastrophes. You can get the good or bad news for 400 Pounds.

Reactive Impedance

About those AS posts: A physicist and frequent reader of my blog said something like this to me: “it’s really weird how several commenters seem deeply offended by the subject!” I noted my own surprise – I thought the subject was intrinsically interesting, occasionally amusing, and replete with insight into how the human mind worked. Obviously, some people – people I know to be very bright, by the way – disagree.

I asked if he had taken the test. “AQ = 30,” he said, “and it would probably have been higher when I was in school.”

I happened to run into an old psychologist acquaintance at a cocktail party, and I couldn’t resist discussing my theories with him – they are not really my theories, since I quickly learned that others had come up with them before me. He, an old-line Freudian, was deeply skeptical, but he found the evidence interesting.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

National Suicide

It's a bit shocking how easy it is to persuade a country to commit national suicide.  I just heard on ABC's This Week 9 out of ten Americans believe that the National Debt Limit should not be raised.  Of course most of them don't have any idea what that implies, I suppose, but plenty of those who do, or should, are prepared to take advantage of our national stupidity in their attempt to blow up Social Security and Medicare.  Douglas Holtz-Slimeball-Eakin was leading the charge on ABC.  Paul Krugman was a pretty lonely voice in saying "don't give in to blackmail."

If history is any guide, I expect that Obama will negotiate ingratiatingly and produce elated congratulations when he manages to give the Republicans only half of Czechoslovakia.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bizarro World Event of the Day

The head of the International Monetary Fund is expected to be formally arrested on charges including criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment, a New York police official told CNN late Saturday night.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn was being questioned by police Saturday in connection with the alleged sexual assault that day of a Times Square hotel housekeeping employee, New York Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said.

Strauss-Kahn was also expected to be a leading candidate in coming French presidential elections.

Would Nietzsche have approved?

Today's Hits

Have I mentioned that I usually have something playing on my mental jukebox, whether I will or nil?  Yes I have.

Today's most popular (not with me - with the damn mental DJ - I'm sure that I have much more sophisticated tastes;) ) :

Christina Perri - Jar of Hearts

Philosophy

I share that aversion to philosophy that seems common to a certain type of physicist - we take Feynman as our guide.  The most interesting subject for philosophy is human nature, and nearly every philosopher felt obliged to take a crack at it.  

Somewhere, I seem to recall, Richard Dawkins said, or quoted, something to the effect that anything written about human nature before 1859 could only be of historical interest.  An exaggeration for effect, but certainly almost everything mysterious about human nature was radically clarified when viewed through the lens of "that mediocre man" (as Nietzsche styled him) Charles Darwin.

Nietzsche himself invented "The Will to Power" as his master principle for life, itself just a slight reworking of S[c*]hopenhauer's "Will to Live".  Schopenhauer was closer in the game of philosophical horseshoes, but Nietzsche was unfortunate enough to write after his master idea was already refuted and superseded.

*Belette insists

More Asperger’s Stuff, and a Quiz

Gus is the cat at the theatre door….
…………..T S Elliot

First, another couple of members for my Aspie hall of fame … Michaelangeloand F. Nietzsche.

Should there be an afterlife, Nietzsche, at least should find some philosophical company – other philosophs often mentioned for Aspiedom include Socrates, Quine, Wittgenstein, Kant, Spinoza, Russell and Gödel.

But how about you? Here is a convenient short test for self administration.

Some scores below:

An average woman, so they say, gets a 14, while the average man rates 18. Male scientists, and female physicists, come in at 19.

24 is claimed to be the score expected of math contest winners.

32 is supposedly Asperger’s territory.

I took the test twice, once as myself, and secondly trying to remember my 14 year-old self. I got a 28 and a 36. I know a few autistic spectrum people, and frankly, I don’t seem much like any of them to me. On the other hand, if you aren’t good at reading people, how can you tell?

Scores, anyone?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mile Marker 206 (Beyond Good and Evil)

The time for petty politics is past; the next century will bring the struggle for the dominion of the world—the COMPULSION to great politics.

…………..Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (2008). Beyond Good and Evil (Optimized for Kindle) (Kindle Locations 1686-1687).


A great work of art or thought ought induce some indignation, otherwise how could it challenge or add to your insight. Only if it survives that indignation does it deserve to be paid attention to. Nietzsche at least passes the first test of being profoundly irritating.

At least he now makes a little sense. Am I reading a bad translation, or is he really this obscure. I understand him better and like him less. Yes, he saw many things that lesser minds missed. My problem is that I really can’t forgive him his consequences. He liked the old morality where consequences counted for more than intentions – and so he should be judged. I see him brewing so many of the evil spirits that possessed Germany in the twentieth century and nearly destroyed the world. If I could be objective in my judgment – a quality Nietzsche despised – I might like him better, but I can’t.

Racism, misogyny, blaming the Jews, worship of cruelty, power, slavery and bloodthirsty leadership, hatred of democracy, and above all the cry for the destruction of the weak and unfit all seep evilly from this little book. One can argue quite plausibly that he didn’t mean it that way, but the fact is that what he wrote can be very directly so interpreted, and as history demonstrated, was so interpreted.

Did Hitler misunderstand Nietzsche? Do I? It doesn’t matter, because Hitler did think he understood him, and it’s hard to disbelieve that Nietzsche prepared the way for the murderers and salved their consciences.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Basketball Stats

One evil effect of the computer is that now basketball commentators can lard their broadcasts with all sorts of statistics, including some pretty lame ones (JJ shot 36% from the three point line in the regular season, but so far in the playoffs he is only 1 of 9, for 11%).  While my son and I were watching the Bulls-Hawks game tonight, one of the announcers stated with apparent surprise that the team that went ahead 3 to 2 (games) in a seven games series had an 83% chance of winning the series.

Should that surprise us?  If the teams are perfectly evenly matched, so that in the long run they should each win the same number of games, then the odds of winning an individual game are 50% for each team, and team with only 2 wins should have a win fraction of .50 x .50 = .25 and the favored team should only win 75% of the time. 

My son pointed out, though, that if the 3:2 ratio of wins faithfully reflected the odds of winning an individual game, then the weaker team had only a probability of winning .40 x .40 = .16, so the stronger team should win 84% of the time - so that 83% number based on the data is pretty darn plausible.

How about the hoary old fact that no team down 3 to zip has ever come back to win.  Well, if the teams were perfectly balanced either team has a 1/8 chance of winning the first three games, so 1/4 of the series should start out that way.  Once you are in that fix, however, you only have a 1/16 chance of winning.  In reality, of course, teams are not perfectly balanced, and the home and home system almost certainly raises the home team's winning chances.  This  can be guessed to have both positive and negative effects on the likelyhood of  3-0 starts and comebacks significantly less likely.

Salt and a Battery

Putting energy to work requires solution of a pair of problems: finding a source and storing the energy until we are ready to use it. Biological systems have developed elaborately multi-layered solutions. Mostly our source is the Sun. The invention of photosynthesis was the big breakthrough, taking energy from the Sun and storing it in carbohydrates (which, for future reference, pack about 17 MJ of energy per kilogram of weight). Other systems facilitate short term storage (ATP) and long term (fat).

Some of that energy of photosynthesis was tucked away in the decaying organic matter that became the fossil fuels that tens of millions of years later are our primary source of energy. Those fossil fuels, in various refined forms, are admirably suited to be both sources of energy for us and compact, highly portable, high-energy storage media ready for use in our combustion engines.

We have gotten better at extracting energy more directly from the Sun, especially in the form of electricity. Improvements in electric power distribution systems can alleviate the storage problem but not solve it. Solar energy is available only part of the time, even in the sunniest climes, and hooking cars and trucks to the grid is a problem. The time-honored solution for storing electric energy is the rechargeable battery, especially the metal-ion salt based battery.

Batteries bring a few problems, but the worst one is the low ratio of stored energy to weight. A lead-acid battery can store about 0.14 MJ/kg, compared to some 46.4 MJ/kg for gasoline , or 331 times the energy density. Lithium-ion batteries are can pack 3-5 times as much energy per weight as their lead footed brethren, but that still leaves them hopelessly behind in the energy density race. 

These numbers would appear to indicate that it’s hopeless to expect batteries to compete with gasoline, but it’s not quite that bad. Electric motors can be far simpler than the internal combustion engine, and can dispense with a lot of the life support and Power transmission infrastructure that the internal combustion engine requires.

Part of the advantage to gasoline (and similar fuels) is that the heaviest component of their chemical reaction, oxygen, is supplied free of charge by the atmosphere. In principle, fuel cells can use the same trick, and so can an open-cell system like the still under development lithium-air battery, which in principle can achieve 40 MJ/kg, though a tenth of that in practice would still be great.

Of course if you want truly great mileage for your fuel weight, you might need to indulge in more exotic technologies, deuterium-tritium fusion, for example, at 576,000,000 MJ/kg (576 TJ/kg), or matter anti-matter annihilation (90 PJ/kg = 9x10^10 MJ/kg). A bit of exotic vacuum from the pre-inflation universe would be even more potent. Some further engineering development might be required in each case.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Problem of Pakistan

There is a case to be made that Pakistan is our most dangerous enemy in the world right now.  It is a major sponsor of terrorism in its own right, has nuclear weapons, and has sold the technology to our other chief foes, Iran and North Korea.  It hides and aids our foes the Taliban and al Quaeda.

Nonetheless, they feel safe against our retaliation because they have nuclear weapons and sit astride our supply lines to Afghanistan.  Our choices:

  • Get out of Afghanistan
  • and, forget about them - let India and China deal with them
  • or, try to pull the nuclear stinger.  That would be a very risky course.
  • or, continue on, punishing perfidy in subtle ways.

Instinct

What is an instinct? It’s usually defined as an innate tendency to a behavior, especially as contrasted to learned behaviors. Baby birds, for example, fly upon reaching sufficient physical maturity without the help of any lessons. Similarly, ants and termites don’t need instruction on how build their elaborate nests – the program for that is already in the firmware when shipped. Such preprogrammed behaviors are hardly absent in primates or humans, but they do tend to become more complicated by the necessity of learning.

Birds learn too, of course, and so do bees, but the element of learning is far more prominent in humans. Human babies are born with instinctive tendencies to crawl, walk and speak but they can’t do any of them at birth, and each skill requires progressively more learning. Other instincts are perhaps even more subtle. Humans and our fellow higher primates can all throw, but only humans seem to be able to do so with range and precision. It takes a lot of mental machinery to solve the differential equation of projectile flight and convert results to appropriate muscle impulse patterns, and our hairier fellows seem to lack it. I call this a subtle instinct because most humans don’t bother to develop it – at least not in the modern world.

Note that this definition of instinct is a combination of abilities and tendencies – you won’t fly unless you have the wings, muscles, and control systems for flight on the one hand, and the desire to launch yourself into space with nothing but air to hold you up on the other. As the example of throwing indicates, that machinery can be complex and subtle. Man’s tool making instinct is another classic example. The beautiful and subtly wrought projectile points that first occur in the archeological records a few tens of thousands of years ago probably represent the full maturity of this talent.

As it happens, chimps and gorillas can be taught to make stone tools by the flaking process that humans have used. However, they are unable to become good at it. Here the reason is especially clear – they lack the fine hand muscles and control needed for the task. Today, probably only a few hundred individuals still exist in the world with any skill at flaking stone tools, but it happens that the subtlety of hand and mind developed for that task is transferrable. Surgeons, artists, tailors and craftsmen still depend on those skills and are probably still motivated, in part, by same instinctive pleasure that our ancestors took in finding a nice piece of stone and whacking away at it to create a tool.

On Pointe and in a Tutu

There has been a certain amount of legalistic chatter about the legality and morality of gunning down bin Laden at a moment when he wasn't actually manning a machine gun.  I think this is nonsense.

Not because he deserved it, even though he richly did.

Not because justice was done, it wasn't.

Because this is war, and killing the enemy is what you do.  Most of the people killed in war are far less culpable than bin Laden, but if they are trying to kill us, we need to kill them first.  Even if they are on pointe and in a tutu, or pajamas.

The SEALS carried out a very dangerous mission at great risk to themselves and even managed to avoid most collateral casualties.  Congratulations to them, and all those who supported their efforts.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Nada

God particle still the unmoved (and unseen) mover.

From Peter Woit.

ATLAS this weekend has finally released their latest analysis of the gamma-gamma invariant mass spectrum, carried out in response to claims from within their collaboration that a 4 sigma Higgs signal had been observed in this channel. The result? Nada:
The dominant background components are measured and found to be in agreement with the Standard Model predictions, both in terms of overall yield and invariant mass distribution. No excess is observed.
Top experts often comment on Peter's blog.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Nietzsche vs. Rand

On the second card: Mozart vs. Traffic Noise.

Andrew Sullivan

If you aren't reading Andrew Sullivan, you are probably missing a lot.  Among today's hits, thylacines, Abbottabad (poem), Muslim humiliation, and this:

Alex Carp interviewed architect Eyal Weizman:


People tell you that architecture is built to protect you against the elements. Primarily architecture is built to protect you from other people. More interesting for me is the way in which power operates through an ability to both control and interrupt.

Look at Gaza, bounded by a perimeter fence that is its master. How many calories should enter into Gaza? Israeli soldiers sit and calculate this, which has been documented by NGOs. Two thousand one hundred calories per adult male, one thousand seven hundred calories per adult woman, then children according to gender and age, and that’s what’s flowing. Or electricity. How many megawatts should be allowed in? How much water should enter? That’s what the wall does—it’s a membrane that regulates and controls people by modulating flows, rather than being simply, in the medieval sense of the word, a fortification.

I used to disagree with Andy about everything, but these days he seems to be getting smarter.

Atlas Shrugged

Done at last and somehow I feel that I ought to have something to say about the whole thing.  I undertook this to try to find out why so many people seem to find this book so inspirational.  I guess that I've said enough about why I don't like it.  There are a few sentiments expressed in the book that I can applaud: having a purpose and a goal, for example(like *finish*this*damn*book*, perhaps).

So why did I invest a large part of my free time over the past few weeks in these 2/3 of a million words?  I had read some Rand before and was pretty confident that I wouldn't like this one or learn much from it.  I blame Bobby Fisher.

I have been fascinated by his peculiar tragedy for nearly half a century.  What caused this brilliant individual to launch into a succession of progressively more self-destrustive acts even as he reached a peak of success?  Frank Brady's excellent book, Endgame: Bobby Fisher's Remarkable Rise and Fall, gave me a theory, a theory that started with a couple of other books, Michael Lewis's The Big Short and Graham Farmelo's The Strangest Man.  The most intriguing character in Lewis's book is super smart neurosurgeon turned stock-picker Michael Burry, while Farmelo's subject is the great theoretical physicist Paul Dirac.  Burry has Asperger's syndrome, and attributes some of his success to the characteristics of the syndrome.  Dirac was almost certainly a high function autistic himself.

It occurred to me that Fisher exhibited many of the Asperger's characteristics, and so did several other prominent eccentric geniuses.  Was it possible that for some Asperger's was double-edged, allowing them additional intellectual development at the cost of some other limitations? 

Ayn Rand became more fascinating for me as soon as I began to suspect that she fitted the pattern.  Her characters are all caricatures, shaped with an axe not a chisel.  The infuriating thing their relatives always throw up to her hero characters is that they lack normal or "human feelings."  The streak of paranoia ehibited by Rand and her characters is another strong marker.  You might say that I approached Atlas Shrugged looking more for a diagnosis than an entertaining read.

The dominant emotion and motive of the book appears to be resentment.  It might even be a new sort of the ressentiment of Kirkegard and Nietzsche - in this case the resentment of the privileged for the less so.  I have the peculiar theory that Rand's raging sense of aggrievement originated in her personal emotional damage.

I will guess that one of the sources of her appeal to youth is her profound alienation from conventional society.  Youth is a time of alienation, and an author who taps into that probably has some built in appeal.

(To be continued?)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Words of Wisdom

Hermione Granger:

What an idiot!

Dearest Dagny,


Yes, I listened to the speech - the whoo-ho-hole thing, all leventy'leven hours of it. Congratulations, you are now screwing the most tiresome bore in the history of the multiverse. And, yes, it's true about Frisco and I - but don't take it personally that we both gave up on women after you. We are a couple - not that we would be if there were any chicks in this People's Hellhole de Colorado.

What I wouldn't give right now for the chance to buffalo one bureaucrat or confuse a tax collector. I'm going nuts. I didn't become a master metallurgist just to become the country blacksmith to a bunch of vacant eyed wackos - no offense.
How do you bust out of this joint, anyway - you managed it once?

Smooches,

Hank

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Wizard Speaks

This is the story of a very powerful wizard who, at a crucial moment in human history, when everything has gone to crap from a combination of his sabotage, witless leadership, and the awful burden of a false morality, uses his invincible magical spell to sieze control of all the world's radios.

The speech he gives is a little like one of those you hear from the dirty and wild-haired homeless man on the street corner.  There is a lot of talk how everybody is getting just what they deserve for believing some theory of existence other than his, and then he expounds that theory at considerable length.  

I shouldn't be too hard on the author. These are the heartfelt thoughts of an original and fairly intelligent erson who has worked hard to develop a theory of human nature from scratch.It's passionate, rising ocassionally to something approaching eloquence, but ultimately I am reminded of the review that goes something like this: "this work contains material that is both correct and original. Unfortunately, the correct parts are not original and the original parts are not correct." Let me give some samples:

For centuries the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors-between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of the ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it.

Both sides agreed that morality demands the surrender of your self-interest and of your mind, that the moral and the practical are opposites, that morality is not the province of reason, but the province of faith and force. Both sides agreed thant no rational morality is possible, that there is no right or wrong in reason- that in reason there is no reason to be moral.

Whatever else they fought about, it was against man’s mind that all your moralists have stood united. It was man’s mind that all their schemes and systems were intended to despoil and destroy. Now choose to perish or learn that the anti-mind is the anti-life.

…Are you prattling of an instinct of self-preservation? An instinct of self-preservation is precisely what man does not possess. An instinct is an unerring and automatic for of knowledge. A desire is not an instinct…

…The history of man has been a struggle to deny and destroy his mind…

They who pose as scientists and claim that man is only an animal, do not grant him inclusion in the law of existence that they have granted to the lowest of insects.

…existence exists………

…A is A…. ==> You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.

There is a fairly detailed exposition of his[OK, her] epistemology - mostly the sort of thing we all discover by age five. The twin obsessions are the conspiracy to suppress mind and the conspiracy to suppress self-interest - funny, I never really noticed either, and went to a Catholic school.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Of Good and Evil

Page 859 and sometimes I get so bored I need to distract myself with a post. I have been collecting some virtues and vices ala Rand. Nietzsche would recognize them:

Wisdom of Ayn Rand
Good..................................... Evil
Selfishness ...........................Altruism
Business ...............................Government
Mind ...........................,,,......Emotion
Ordinary Hood ....................Robin. Hood
Sabotage .............................Taxes = Murder = Cannibalism
Strength ..............................Weakness
Justice .................................Charity
Ruthlessness .......................Pity
Laissez Faire Capitalism ...Anything Else
Certainty ............................Uncertainty
Self Righteous Whining (good guys) ..........Self Righteous Whining (bad guys)
Greed .................................Need
Egocentricity .....................Family Feeling
Engineering .......................Science
Sex for Dagny ...................Sex for Anybody Else
Cult of Rand* ...............,,,,,. Other Religions

* Fixed thx to IHK

I Don't Think Pakistan Is Going To Be Able To Explain This

Andrew Sullivan:

Pakistan has a lot of 'splaining to do. Really, this $1 million McMansion - eight times as big as its neighbors - in a vacation resort cannot have been unnoticed by the Pakistani intelligence services. If they've known about this for years and milked their ally for money while harboring the mass murderer of thousands of Americans and others, well, this could become a huge source of popular rage for Americans, however hard the elites want to use this leverage against Pakistan on pragmatic grounds.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Live Blog From Abbottabad

Via Brad DeLong

This guy seems to have heard the copter coming.

SEALS! USA! CIA

Finally, it seems, we have gotten bin Laden.  It seems impossible to believe that he was hiding in a mansion in Islamabad without the connivance of Pakistani intelligence, or major elements of it.

Time to get the hell out of Afghanistan.  If, as seems likely, Pakistan was demonstrably aiding bin Laden, some revenge is in order, but not by military means.  Just don't give them another penny, don't let them trade with the US, and don't let them do any other business that we can thwart.

UPDATE:  It's claimed (at least by Pakistan) that the ISI (Pakistani intelligence) led the US to bin Laden.  If so, it was damn late.  I'm far from sure that that gets Pakistan off the hook.  Maybe Obama squeezed them hard enough to make them give him up - I would sure like to know more.

UPDATE II: It looks like word of Pakistani cooperation was bogus. 

That Flushing Sound You Hear

...Just might be the EU.

Kevin O'Rourke Via Brad DeLong

This post was written by Kevin O’Rourke

Colm McCarthy makes some important political points in today’s Sunday Independent. He points out, quite correctly, that the ECB’s policy of favouring an Irish sovereign default later over a private banking default now (and it is important to be clear that this is exactly their position, whether or not they publicly admit it) is going to make it very difficult, if not impossible, to get public buy-in for the further austerity measures coming down the line; and is also virtually certain to lead to increasing anti-EU sentiment here (and in the rest of the periphery as well).

But it’s worse than that. By confusing fiscal and banking crises in the public mind, the ECB is also fuelling anti-EU sentiment in the core, since core taxpayers understandably resent the notion that they should subsidize feckless peripheral taxpayers. By contrast, greater honesty about the fact that we have a Europe-wide banking crisis would make taxpayers everywhere realise that they have common interests, and a common enemy, namely an out-of-control financial sector. In such a scenario, ‘Europe’ might be seen by ordinary voters as having something positive to contribute, since cross-border banking requires cross-border regulation. Right now, however, ‘Europe’ is seen as a big part of the problem, in the case of the ECB correctly so.
Like Colm says, it really is a slow motion train wreck.

Colm McCarthy:

Economist Paul de Grauwe has argued that the very design of the eurozone created high risks of sovereign default for non-core EU members who were rash enough to join the single currency.

It is patently clear that these risks were under-appreciated in Ireland but it is dispiriting to have to listen to lectures from ECB officials who appear to regard the European banking crisis as essentially a morality play about fiscal policy.

At some point, Irish taxpayers are likely to get tired of paying off those (mostly foreign banks) who were dumb enough to lend money to badly managed private Irish banks, and it's likely to happen elsewhere too.

Justice and Charity

Justice is the opposite of charity, Dagny tells Cherryl.

This is a good example of Rand's twisting the meaning of words to fit her twisted ideology - another good trick she learned from Lenin and Stalin.  In fact, both of these concepts (and words) stem from the same empathetic impulse.  Charity stems etymologically from the word carus, meaning "valued," and is related to the word care.
Even our closer pre-human ancestors have primitive notions of justice, and those notions relate to cooperative action.  Pairs of certain monkeys will cooperate to gain rewards for each, if the rewards are equivalent, but will refuse cooperation when they aren't - they will forego their own reward rather than help another get a disproportionately large reward.  The root of this behavior is a notion of caring about the other, and what the other gets.

Of course one could argue that this notion of justice stems from envy and our conventional notion of charity stems from compassion, but both involve our ability to think about the other as like ourselves.  These notions are at the root of our social behaviors and were probably essential elements that enabled civilization.

Interestingly, the only other complex societies we know of in life, the social insects, are based on an even more profound and primitive identification of self and other - genetic equivalence.

The Villains

From a literary standpoint, one thing that Atlas Shrugged lacks is interesting villains.  The most interesting villain, such as he is, is James Taggert, the brother of our heroine.  Rand's obsessive need to degrade anyone not espousing the party line keeps him from being actually interesting, but you can see some hints nonetheless.  In many ways Taggert is a more real businessman and capitalist than her heroes.  Her heroes prosper by various feats of magic - conjuring electricity from the air, oil from a stone, and high temperature alloys from mixture of copper and iron - but Taggert's art is the art of the deal, made to look as disgusting and disreputable as possible, but still recognizably closer to what many businessmen spend their efforts on.

For those who, unlike Rand, prefer not to fake their reality to fit the religion of the cult, this kind of deal making is a more fundamental aspect of human nature than the kind of "make the trains run on time" activity she celebrates.  There is empirical evidence to indicate that facilitating all kinds of cooperative activities was what drove the evolution of the human brain and its elaborate social machinery.

Perhaps the number two villain in the piece is Dr. Robert Stadler, a theoretical physicist who sells out in almost every way.  Implausibly, Rand claimed to base him on her interviews of Robert Oppenheimer.  For anyone with any knowledge of the real Oppenheimer, this identification is preposterous, but it certainly tells us far more about Rand than Oppenheimer. 

Every piece of reality that passes through her twisted mind gets twisted too, like light passing through a chiral medium.  For an intricate and complex mind like Oppenheimer's, the distortion is so complete that nothing recognizable remains.