January 2012

How the Navy Seals Increased Passing Rates

by LimbicNutrition Shorts on January 8, 2012

How the Navy Seals Increased Passing Rates:

"Goal Setting - Mental Rehearsal - Self Talk - Arousal Control

With goal setting the recruits were taught to set goals in extremely short chunks. For instance, one former Navy Seal discussed how he set goals such as making it to lunch, then dinner. With mental rehearsal they were taught to visualize themselves succeeding in their activities and going through the motions. As far as self talk is concerned, the experts in The Brain documentary made the claim that we say 300 to 1000 words to ourselves a minute. By instructing the recruits to speak positively to themselves they could learn how to “override fears” resulting from the amygdala, a primal part of the brain that helps us deal with anxiety. And finally, with arousal control the recruits were taught how to breathe to help mitigate the crippling emotions and fears that some of their tasks encouraged.

This very simple four step process increased their passing rates from 25 percent to 33 percent, which is excellent in a rigorous program as theirs. It demonstrates that achieving success doesn’t always have to be a complex process. A few minor additions and tweaks may be all that is needed.”

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A very interesting piece from MIT on Collective intelligence and the “genetic” structure of groups:

First is the question of whether general cognitive ability — what we think of, when it comes to individuals, as “intelligence” — actually exists for groups. (Spoiler: it does.)

And what they found is telling. “The average intelligence of the people in the group and the maximum intelligence of the people in the group doesn’t predict group intelligence,” Malone said. Which is to say: “Just getting a lot of smart people in a group does not necessarily make a smart group.” Furthermore, the researchers found, group intelligence is also only moderately correlated with qualities you’d think would be pretty crucial when it comes to group dynamics — things like group cohesion, satisfaction, “psychological safety,” and motivation. It’s not just that a happy group or a close-knit group or an enthusiastic group doesn’t necessarily equal a smart group; it’s also that those psychological elements have only some effect on groups’ ability to solve problems together.

So how do you engineer groups that can problem-solve effectively? First of all, seed them with, basically, caring people. Group intelligence is correlated, Malone and his colleagues found, with the average social sensitivity — the openness, and receptiveness, to others — of a group’s constituents. The emotional intelligence of group members, in other words, serves the cognitive intelligence of the group overall. And this means that — wait for it — groups with more women tend to be smarter than groups with more men. (As Malone put it: “More females, more intelligence.”) That’s largely mediated by the researchers’ social sensitivity findings: Women tend to be more socially sensitive than men — per Science ! — which means that, overall, more women = more emotional intelligence = more group intelligence .

But where Professor Malone’s ideas get especially interesting from the Lab’s perspective is in another aspect of his work: the notion that groups have, in their structural elements, a kind of dynamic DNA. Malone and his colleagues — in this case, Robert Laubacher and Chrysanthos Dellarocas — are essentially trying to map the genome of human collectivity , the underlying structure that determines groups’ outcomes. The researchers break the “genes” of groups down to interactions among four basic (and familiar) categories: what, who, why, and how. Or, put another way: what the project is, who’s working to enact it, why they’re working to enact it, and what methods they’re using to enact it.

…Group intelligence, though, Malone’s findings suggest, can be manipulated — and so, if you understand what makes groups smart, you can adjust their factors to make them even smarter. The age-old question in sociology is whether groups are somehow different, and greater, than the sum of their parts. And the answer, based on Malone’s and other findings, seems to be “yes.” The trick now is figuring out why that’s so, and how the mechanics of the collective may be put to productive use. Measuring group intelligence, in other words, is the first step in increasing group intelligence.

Malone and his colleagues have identified 16 “genes” so far, as expressed in groups like Wikipedia contributors, YouTube uploaders, and eBay auctioneers. “We don’t believe this is the end, by any means, but we think it’s a start,” he said — a way to rethink, and perhaps even revolutionize, the design of groups. Organizational design theory in the 20th century, he noted, generally focused on traditional, hierarchical corporations. But as digital tools give way to new kinds of collectives, “it seems to me,” the professor said, that “it’s time to update organizational design theory for these new organizations.”

MIT management professor Tom Malone on collective intelligence and the “genetic” structure of groups » Nieman Journalism Lab.


Economics of Information Technology

by Limbic on January 5, 2012

Old but good (2001). A primer on the economics of Information Technology.

This is an overview of economic phenomena that are important for high-technology industries. Topics covered include personalization of products and prices, versioning, bundling, switching costs, lock-in, economies of scale, network effects, standards, and systems effects.

Most of these phenomena are present in conventional industries, but they are particular important for technology-intensive industries. I provide a survey and review of recent literature and examine some implications of these phenomena for corporate strategy and public policy.

via Economics of Information Technology.

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Men “attune” to fatherhood

by Limbic on January 5, 2012

From an interview with Lee Gettler, the researcher who discovered that testosterone drops in new fathers:

What we see, specifically, in our research is that men have the biological capability to “attune” to fatherhood, responding to the transition to fatherhood with large declines in testosterone. We also see that fathers who are the most involved with physically taking care of their children have the lowest testosterone.

This does not mean that this pattern and its predicted relationships to behavior will occur in every man everywhere, but simply that, within a normative range of variability, male human reproductive biology has the capacity to respond in this way. Individual personalities and cultural norms can certainly affect, mitigate, even dictate, in some cases, how or if these testosterone patterns come to fruition and how they relate to male’s behavior, if they do at all.

Classic models of human evolution have often emphasized the role of men as hunters and providers, without much (or any) attention given to men’s possible contributions to childcare. Our findings help revise this model by showing that human male biology can specifically adjust to the demands of fatherhood and suggest an important role for fathers’ direct care of their children in that accommodation process.

From: http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2011/12/14/on-testosterone-and-real-men-an-interview-with-lee-gettler/


Is reasoning just about winning arguments?

by Limbic on January 5, 2012

From an old Edge discussion:

Last July, opening the Edge Seminar, “The New Science of Morality”, Jonathan Haidt digressed to talk about two recently-published papers in Behavioral and Brain Sciences which he believed were “so important that the abstracts from them should be posted in psychology departments all over the country.”

One of the papers “Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory,” published by Behavioral and Brain Sciences, was by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber.

“The article,” Haidt said, “is a review of a puzzle that has bedeviled researchers in cognitive psychology and social cognition for a long time. The puzzle is, why are humans so amazingly bad at reasoning in some contexts, and so amazingly good in others?”

“Reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments. That’s why they call it The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. So, as they put it, “The evidence reviewed here shows not only that reasoning falls quite short of reliably delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions. It may even be, in a variety of cases, detrimental to rationality. Reasoning can lead to poor outcomes, not because humans are bad at it, but because they systematically strive for arguments that justify their beliefs or their actions. This explains the confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and reason-based choice, among other things.”

“Now, the authors point out that we can and do re-use our reasoning abilities. We’re sitting here at a conference. We’re reasoning together. We can re-use our argumentative reasoning for other purposes. But even there, it shows the marks of its heritage. Even there, our thought processes tend towards confirmation of our own ideas. Science works very well as a social process, when we can come together and find flaws in each other’s reasoning. We can’t find the problems in our own reasoning very well. But, that’s what other people are for, is to criticize us. And together, we hope the truth comes out.”

…The paper has created a storm of interest and controversy and has has attracted attention well beyond academic circles. Sharon Begley (Newsweek) and Jonah Lehrer (Wired) were among the many journalists who wrote stories.  In addition, many leading thinkers have taken note.

Gerd Gigerenzer finds this view on reasoning is most provocative as “reasoning is not about truth but about convincing others when trust alone is not enough. Doing so may seem irrational, but it is in fact social intelligence at its best.” Steven Pinker notes that “The Argumentative Theory is original and provocative, has a large degree of support, and is strikingly relevant to contemporary affairs, including political discourse, higher education, and the nature of reason and rationality. It is likely to have a big impact on our understanding of ourselves and current affairs.”

And Jonathan Haidt says the “the article is one of my favorite papers of the last ten years. I believe that they have solved one of the most important and longstanding puzzles in psychology: why are we so good at reasoning in some cases, but so hopelessly biased in others? Once I read their paper, I saw the argumentative function” of reasoning everywhere — particularly in the reasoning of people I disagreed with, but also occasionally even in myself. They’re on to a very powerful idea with many social and educational ramifications.”

Read an interview with one of the paper’s authors – Hugo Mercier – here: http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge.org/conversation/the-argumentative-theory


The Downside of Stories

by Limbic on January 5, 2012

Interesting speech on “the heuristic narratological basis of self-delusion”,  “the stories and metaphors we seduce ourselves with”.

Transcript is here: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/8w1/transcript_tyler_cowen_on_stories/

Here is one extract from the transcript.

Another set of stories that are popular – if you know Oliver Stone movies or Michael Moore movies. You can’t make a movie and say, “It was all a big accident.” No, it has to be a conspiracy, people plotting together, because a story is about intention. A story is not about spontaneous order or complex human institutions which are the product of human action but not of human design. No, a story is about evil people plotting together. So you hear stories about plots, or even stories about good people plotting things together, just like when you’re watching movies. This, again, is reason to be suspicious.

He is so right. Our narrative bias feeds the engine of Ideological belief, which always holds that there are oppressors and oppressed and that the oppressors are intentionally oppressing, usually via conspiracy.

Complex systems, emergent properties, mistakes and unforeseen second or third order effects are discounted. Narrative bias demands agency, and that serves Ideology, the dominant political mode of our time.


Tim Ferriss’ recipe for hacking any topic

by Limbic on January 1, 2012

This is from an old but good interview with Tim Ferriss on his blog:

Avi: Do you have a generic method for hacking some advanced skill set. You seem to have hacked so many advanced topics that you must have a method to your madness!

Tim: Well, I do have a method and it’s really a series of questions more than anything else. It’s almost a Socratic process but I would say that, first and foremost, I have to have a very clear, measurable objective, whether that’s in language acquisition or in power lifting.

The common element is measurement, so you need to know when you have succeeded and how to measure progress to that success point, whether that’s a 500 pound dead lift or a 50 kilometer ultra marathon or getting to the point where you can do, let’s say, a single lap in an Olympic pool with 15 or fewer strokes. These are all real examples. The number of footfalls, meaning stride rate, per minute in endurance training and how long I can sustain that for say with a goal of 20 minutes at a time. Or a 95 percent fluency in conversational German as measured through different metrics. Again, all real examples.

So the first is measurement. I have a clear idea of what success looks like and how to measure it.

Secondly, I will look at the most common approaches, which are, oftentimes, the lowest common denominator but have some thread of efficacy. I will ask, “What if I did the opposite?” I’ll look at the established common practices, the established dogma, and ask myself what if I did the opposite.

If it’s endurance training, let’s look at Iron Man training, and the average is 20-30 hours of training per week for people in the upper quartile. What if I limited that to five or fewer hours per week? What would I have to do? How could I make this type of training work, or perhaps be more effective, if I had to focus on low volume instead of high volume? The same could be said of weight training. The same could be said of language learning.

If someone says it takes a lifetime to learn a language or it should take 10 years, what if I had to compress that into 10 weeks? I know it’s “impossible,” but what if? And if they say that vocabulary comes first because we should learn as we did when we were a child, which I completely disagree with – it’s entirely unfounded – what if you were to start with a radicals (Japanese/Chinese) or grammar instead?

So, flipping things on their heads and looking at opposites can provide some very surprising discoveries and shortcuts.

Thirdly, I look for anomalies. For any given skill, there’s going to be an archetype of someone should be successful at that skill. If it’s swimming, for example, it would be someone with the build of Michael Phelps. They would have a long wingspan, relatively tall, big hands, big feet and large lung capacity. So, if I can find someone who defies those anatomical proportions — say, someone who’s 5′ 5″, extremely heavily muscled, like 250, who is still an effective swimmer — I want to study what the anomalies practice because attributes can compensate for poor training. I want to find someone who lacks the attributes that can allow them to compensate for poor training.

Typically, you find much more refined approaches when you look at the anomalies. That’s true for any skill I have looked at, whether that’s programming or otherwise. So, let’s just take computer programming. If the common belief is that someone should start with language A, then progress to framework B and then progress to language C, if I can find someone who skipped those first two steps and is regarded as one of the best programmers in language C, I’m going to look closely at how they developed that skill set. In some cases, it correlates to their use of analogies and background from music or natural languages (for example, Derek Sivers or Chad Fowler )

Then I would say, lastly, is a set of questions related to rate of progress. So I don’t just look at the best people in the world; I look at people who have improved upon their base condition in the shortest period of time possible.

Let’s say I’m looking at muscular gain. I would certainly interview the person who’s, let’s say, 300 pounds and 7% body fat, but there’s a very good chance that I’ll learn more from the person who’s put on 50 pounds for the first time in their life in the last 12 months. So, I always try to establish the rate of progress and, when that person has plateaued at different points, for what duration. I find that exceptionally helpful also for finding non-obvious solutions to problems.