Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Review of The Man from the Future: The Visionary Ideas of John von Neumann by Ananyo Bhattacharya

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = History
Book Club Event = Book List (09/14/2024)


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Von Neumann himself attributed his generation’s success to ‘a coincidence of some cultural factors’ that produced ‘a feeling of extreme insecurity in the individuals, and the necessity to produce the unusual or face extinction’.  In other words, their recognition that the tolerant climate of Hungary might change overnight propelled some to preternatural efforts to succeed.  Physics and mathematics were safe choices for Jews who wished to excel: an academic career could be pursued in many countries, and the subjects were viewed - in the early twentieth century, at least – as relatively harmless.  Moreover, one could reasonably hope that good work in these fields would be fairly rewarded.  The truth of general relatively was established through experiment and was not contingent on whether the person who developed the theory was Jew or Gentile.’” – Ananyo Bhattacharya, Chapter 1: Made in Budapest, Page 20


“A failure to adequately account for this meant that early efforts to calculate trajectories were wildly off, and shells flew far beyond their intended targets.  Throw in some more complications – a moving target, boggy ground and so forth – and the equations of motion often become impossible to solve exactly (in mathematical terms they become ‘non-linear’), forcing mathematicians to approximate.  That required arithmetic and lots of it: hundreds of multiplications for a single trajectory.  What was needed, but not available (yet), was a device able to perform such calculations accurately at the rate of thousands per second.  Some of the earliest room-sized computers would be built to solve exactly this problem.” – Ananyo Bhattacharya, Chapter 4: Project Y and the Super, Page 79


“Von Neumann was irked when newspapers reported that he had received the medal for showing that a ‘miss was better than a hit’.  He had actually discovered that large bombs cause far more damage over a wider area when they are detonated in the air above their target than on the ground.  The principle was well known, but von Neumann showed that the effect of an airburst was much higher than previously thought, and he improved the accuracy of the calculations to determine the optimal altitude of a bomb’s detonation.” – Ananyo Bhattacharya, Chapter 4: Project Y and the Super, Page 90


Review

Is This An Overview?

John von Neumann’s logic and mathematic skill effected civilization.  Brought up in a culture that prioritized intellectual ability.  Abilities that were used in the development of game theory, a method of making decisions based on how everyone is affected by a decision reacts to the decision.  Game theory was used in understanding war decisions.  John von Neumann participated in the war effort, and was part of the development of bombs and improved their trajectory accuracy.  Developments which enabled the foundation of computers, and artificial intelligence. 

 

Caveats?

Much of the book is a description of various forms of mathematics, that would be better understood by those who already know the complexity of mathematics.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How does John von Neumann think about the reality? 
•How complex is math?
•How does math effect civilization? 
•What is game theory?
•How did John von Neumann effect the Manhattan Project?
•What calculations were needed for a bomb accuracy?  
•How did John von Neumann effect artificial intelligence? 
•What led to the development of the computer? 
•Could John von Neumann drive?
•What did Einstein think of math?
•Why did many Jews settle in Hungary?
•What was the culture in Hungary?
•Why did Jews join physics and mathematics?
•What is hyperbolic geometry? 

Book Details
Edition:                   First American Edition
Publisher:               W. W. Norton & Company
Edition ISBN:         9781324004004
Pages to read:          271
Publication:             2022
1st Edition:              2021
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    3
Content          2
Overall          1






Saturday, May 11, 2024

Review of The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism by Jeremy Rifkin

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Economics



Watch Short Review

Excerpts
“Ironically, capitalism’s decline is not coming at the hands of hostile forces.  There are no hordes at the front gates ready to tear down the walls of the capitalist edifice.  Quite the contrary.  What’s undermining the capitalist system is the dramatic success of the very operating assumptions that govern it.  At the heart of capitalism there lies a contradiction in the driving mechanism that has propelled it ever upward to commanding heights, but now is speeding it to its death.” – Jeremy Rifkin, Chapter One: The Great Paradigm Shift From Market Capitalism To The Collaborative Commons, Page 2

“A near zero marginal cost society is the optimally efficient state for promoting the general welfare and represents the ultimate triumph of capitalism.  Its moment of triumph, however, also marks its inescapable passage from the world stage.  While capitalism is far from putting itself out of business, it’s apparent that as it brings us ever closer to a near zero marginal cost society, its once unchallenged prowess is diminishing, making way for an entirely new way of organizing economic life in an age characterized by abundance rather than scarcity.” – Jeremy Rifkin, Chapter One: The Great Paradigm Shift From Market Capitalism To The Collaborative Commons, Page 9

“The social Commons is where we generate the good will that allows a society to cohere as a cultural entity.  Markets and governments are an extension of a people’s social identity.  Without the continuous replenishment of social capital, there would be insufficient trust to enable markets and governments to function, yet we pejoratively categorize the social Commons as “the third sector” as if it were less important than markets or governments.” – Jeremy Rifkin, Chapter One: The Great Paradigm Shift From Market Capitalism To The Collaborative Commons, Pages 17-18


Review

Is This An Overview?

Capitalism is transitioning into a different economic system, a different economic paradigm.  Capitalism is transitioning into the Collaborative Commons.  Markets are transitioning into networks.  Ownership transitioning into access.  Capitalisms’ internal mechanisms are enabling the transition into Collaborative Commons. 

Competitive pressure generates improvements to productivity, that leads to the optimum general welfare.  Productivity reduces costs of production, which causes the cost of production to approach near zero.  As costs of production approach zero, the price of the products approach zero as well.  Products become free, which undermines the profitability motive of capitalism.  Capitalism cannot function without profits, therefore there are many industry incumbents who attempt to prevent the reduction in profit by reducing the competitive pressure.  But the attempts fail as entrepreneurs find ways to circumvent the incumbents. 

Within the Collaborative Commons, everything is connected through the internet to improve efficient use of natural resources, economic production, and social life.  Sensors using data that enables analytics that automate systems to further improve efficiency and productivity.

 

Caveats?

What is shared are the benefits of the different economic system, while the consequences are not shared.  Benefits of data and surveillance on efficiency is shared, but not consequences on mental health of always being surveilled and lack of data security. 

There is a claim that capitalism is about scarcity while Collaborative Commons are about abundance.  Abundance of Collaborative Commons is based on near zero marginal cost.  The problem is that abundance is not absolute, its relative.  Scarcity is defined by resources which are more limited.  The relative abundance and scarcity of resources changes.  Capitalism used the relatively abundant resources, but there were other resources that were scarce.  Collaborative Commons is a different system which have different scarce and abundant resources, but scarcity still exists.  The scarce resources of the Collaborative Commons have become time and attention. 

People might be able to contribute to tasks that they want to without pay, but they would need to obtain an alternative income to pay for resources they need to survive.  The Collaborative Commons work is subsidized by work that provides people with an income.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is capitalism transiting into to?
•Why is capitalism transitioning?
•What are Collaborative Commons?
•What does competition do?
•What causes zero marginal costs?
•What happens at zero marginal costs?
•How do entrepreneurs effect society?
•What effect does the internet have on society? 
•How does zero marginal costs effect publishing?
•What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
•What is the Enclosure Movement? 
•What are free markets and do they need capitalism?  
•Why do large vertically integrated corporate enterprises exist? 
•How does 3D-printing effect society?  
•What is the comedy of the commons? 
•What are cultural commons? 

Book Details
Publisher:               Palgrave Macmillan [Macmillan Publishers Limited]
Edition ISBN:         9781137278463
Pages to read:          311
Publication:             2014
1st Edition:              2014
Format:                    Hardcover 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          3
Overall          2






Friday, May 3, 2024

Review of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Psychology
Book Club Event = Book List (08/17/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Why Do People Think Differently?, 2) The Forge Called Habits,


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Before we engage our concentration, we are typically not aware that we are not aware of those details.  So not only is our perception of the world a construction that does not accurately represent the outside, but we additionally have the false impression of a full, rich picture when in fact we see only what we need to know, and no more.” – David Eagleman, Chapter 2: The Testimony of the Senses: What is Experience Really Like?, Page 31

“Synesthesia, in its dozens of varieties, highlights the amazing differences in how individuals subjectively see the world, reminding us that each brain uniquely determines what it perceives, or is capable of perceiving.  This fact brings us back to our main point here – namely, that reality is far more subjective than is commonly supposed.  Instead of reality being passively recorded by the brain, it is actively constructed by it.” – David Eagleman, Chapter 4: The Kinds of Thoughts That are Thinkable, Page 76

“Although pheromones clearly carry signals, the degree to which they influence human behavior is unknown.  Our cognition is so multilayered that these cues have been reduced to bit players.  Whatever other roles they have, pheromones serve to remind us that the brain continuously evolves: these molecules unmask the presence of outdated legacy software.” – David Eagleman, Chapter 4: The Kinds of Thoughts That are Thinkable, Page 90


Review

Is This An Overview?

Thoughts change through physical modifications of the brain.  Changing the brain physically, changes how the brain interprets information.  The brain seeks information only when needed, to obtain knowledge useful during the circumstance.  Information might be present, but the brain will not see the information until concentration is used.  Observing only what is needed to be known, not more.  The brain gathers information and directs behavior, but the individual is rarely conscious.  The brain runs on automatic responses, habits.  Conscious awareness comes about when the individual’s expectations are violated.  Consciousness is used when dealing with novel tasks, to resolve problems not faced before, which uses more energy than similar tasks that the individual has dealt with before. 

 

The World Is Composed Of Subjective Experiences?

Different species have different umwelts, different ways they engage with and perceive reality.  Even within species, different brains uniquely determine what they perceive, what they are capable of perceiving.  Reality is more subjective than is understood.  Reality is actively constructed by the brain, rather than passively recorded.

 

Do You Trust Your Senses?

The brain spends a lot of effort and energy disambiguating information entering the senses, such as eyes.  The brains fill in missing information from eyes.  The individual perceives not what is there, but what the brain tells the individual.  People are not seeing rich details or aware of most information that enters the eyes.  The brain has change blindness, as seeing change requires attention that takes energy and effort.  Senese cannot be trusted, as they can make the individual believe things that are not true. 

 

The Brain Is A Team Of Rivals?

The brain has competitive rivals.  Some parts prefer gratifications, others long-term outcomes.  A conflict between emotions and rational system.  Feelings have been adjusting decisions, such as making wrong behavior feel bad.  Emotions and rationality are needed for appropriate behavior. 

 

Caveats?

This is an introductory book on how the brain processes information.  Making overt what the brain hides from the individual.  The brain is complex, with much still not understood.  What still needs to be researched is how much free will there is, for much of how the brain processes information is not independent of the various conditions and sources that cause certain decisions.

                                                                                                                                                                

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How can thoughts change? 
•What information does the brain consider?
•How conscious are people? 
•What are degrees of consciousness? 
•What is tacit knowledge? 
•How do people react when regaining sight after decades?
•How do multistable stimulus effect how the brain interprets information? 
•What is the blind spot in the eye? 
•What is change blindness? 
•What is the unconscious inference? 
•What do people see, and not see?
•What is implicit egotism? 
•How should people get into the zone?
•What makes people attractive? 
•What is the umwelt? 
•Is reality subjective? 
•What is synesthesia? 
•What is instinct blindness? 
•How do pheromones effect people? 
•What makes a virtuous person? 
•What is split-brain surgery for?  How do people with a split-brain behave? 
•How to limit the effects of Alzheimer’s? 
•Can functions be assigned to specific sections of the brain? 
•What is the point of revealing a secret? 
•How can a tumor effect behavior? 
•What is the effect of dopamine? 
•What genes make someone more likely to go to prison? 
•Is there free will? 
•How to improve the justice system?
•What is modifiability and how does it affect responsibility? 
•How to be introspective? 
•Should you trust your senses?
•What rivals make the brain work? 
•Do neurons think? 

Book Details
Publisher:               Pantheon Books [Random House]
Edition ISBN:         9780307379788
Pages to read:          199
Publication:             2011
1st Edition:              2011
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5






Thursday, April 25, 2024

Review of Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip E. Tetlock, and Dan Gardner

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (06/29/2024)


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Every day, the news media deliver forecasts without reporting, or even asking, how good the forecasters who made the forecasts really are.  Every day, corporations and governments pay for forecasts that may be prescient or worthless or something in between.  And every day, all of us – leaders of nations, corporate executives, investors, and voters – make critical decisions on the basis of forecasts whose quality is unknown.” – Philip E. Tetlock, and Dan Gardner, Chapter 1: An Optimistic Skeptic, Page 10

“Unpack the question into components.  Distinguish as sharply as you can between the known and unknown and leave no assumptions unscrutinized.  Adopt the outside view and put the problem into a comparative perspective that downplays its uniqueness and treats it as a special case of a wider class of phenomena.  Then adopt the inside view that plays up the uniqueness of the problem.  Also explore the similarities and differences between your views and those of others – and pay special attention to prediction markets and other methods of extracting wisdom from crowds.  Synthesize all these different views into a single vision as acute as that of a dragonfly.  Finally, express your judgement as precisely as you can, using a finely grained scale of probability.” – Philip E. Tetlock, and Dan Gardner, Chapter 7: Supernewsjunkies?, Page 141

“On the one hand, we warned, groupthink is a danger.  Be cooperative but not deferential.  Consensus is not always good; disagreement not always bad.  If you do happen to agree, don’t take that agreement – in itself – as proof that you are right.  Never stop doubting.  Pointed questions are as essential to a team as vitamins are to a human body.  |  On the other hand, the opposite of groupthink - rancor and dysfunction – is also a danger.  Team members must disagree without being disagreeable, we advised.” – Philip E. Tetlock, and Dan Gardner, Chapter 9: Superteams, Page 184


Review

Is This An Overview?

Forecasting is a skill that everyone uses everyday to predict the effects of potential changes.  Like any skill, forecasting can be improved.  Experts are often sought out for decisions and event interpretations, to forecast what will come about.  Although many provided forecasts appear valuable, their quality is often undetermined.  The public tends to favor those who make the future appear more certain, even though their overconfidence is a source of lower quality forecasts.  On average, experts can provide a better narrative of events, but their forecasts are as good as random guesses. 

Part of the reason for the poor performance of forecasts is that reality is complex and dynamic, making predictions difficult.  Society might have more knowledge and computational power, but less confidence in predictability.  There might be limits on predictability, but people can become better at making forecasts.  To find out how people can make better forecasts, and methods to avoid, many diverse people participated in a forecasting research project. 

What made some people better at making forecasts, what made people superforecasters, was based on how they thought about information, how they used information.  Not intelligence, not ideology, not numeracy skills.  The forecasters were doubtful of their claims, and sought to improve them.  Complex problems which seemed impossible to forecast, were reconsidered through a variety of questions seeking to find ways for the event to occur, or not occur.  They looked for the base rate, a general probability of an event happening before going to the unique case.  Anchoring their views to the outside view, rather than the inside view.  They seek to improve their own forecasts by looking for what others think about the event, they look for alternative forecasts.  They adapt to new information, update their forecasts to new information, and try to not underreact or overreact to the information. 

These methods of thinking, these guidelines might improve decision making, but better to change guidelines than make a terrible forecast.  People can become better at forecasting, but teams have better results than an individual superforecaster, as each member can help others to refine ideas, and no individual can do everything.  But teams take effort to make them productive, and can create processes that exacerbate bad decisions.

 

How To Get Better At Forecasting?

To become better at forecasts, people need to practice.  There is a lot of tacit knowledge that cannot be learned through how others describe forecasting.  Feedback is needed to train in any skill, including forecasting.  But the feedback to forecasts, usually lack quality.  They do not provide immediate feedback nor provide clear results.  Without appropriate feedback, people can become overconfident in their forecasts.  People can gain an illusion of control from seemingly favorable random outcomes.  Judging forecasts would depend on running many forecasts, such as in weather.  But there are forecasts that cannot be rerun, such as history.  Need to run experiments to verify claims. 

The language around what people mean by possibilities need to be more specific rather than ambiguous.  People can mean drastically different possibilities, which can create a dangerous misunderstanding. Teams can use a chart to numerically define possibility claims, to reduce confusion.  Numbers are an opinion, but can be used to reduce confusion.  Forecasts also need timelines.  Without timelines, forecasts become perpetually in dispute at what they meant. 

 

Caveats?

Forecasting on problems will always have uncertainty.  As referenced in the book, no matter the quality of the better decision making, there will be uncertainty and wrong decisions.  The process of decision making matters more than the outcome, as there will be more opportunities for better decisions with a better decision making process than a randomly favorable outcome under a worse decision making process. 


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is forecasting?
•Who are superforecasters?
•How to know which forecasts are quality forecasts?
•How does uncertainty effect forecasts?
•What is Laplace’s demon? 
•How does ideology effect forecasts?
•Is intelligence needed for quality forecasts?
•Is math needed?  How to use math in forecasts?
•What is the base rate?
•How do teams compare to individual forecasters?
•How to Fermi-tize a question?
•How to be part of a team?
•What is groupthink? 
•How to update to new information? 
•What is Bayesian Theorem? 
•What do consumers/public want of forecasts? 
•How did doubt, and the absence of doubt effect medicine?
•What is the illusion of control?
•How should a leader make decisions? 
•What is regression to the mean?
•Who are the foxes and hedgehogs? 
•How are confidence and competence correlated? 
•What is the dilution effect? 
•What is the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset? 
•What is perpetual beta?
•What was the quality of the forecast that was sent to the central bank during in November 2010?
•What happened to the CIA possibility chart?  
•How can an economic crisis be predicted? 
•What happened at the Bay of Pigs invasion? 
•Did decision did Seydlitz make?  What was the outcome?
•What is Auftragstaktik? 
•How have military decisions changed? 

Book Details
Publisher:               Crown Publishers [Penguin Random House]
Edition ISBN:         9780804136709
Pages to read:          253
Publication:             2015
1st Edition:              2015
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5






Friday, April 12, 2024

Review of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Psychology
Intriguing Connections = 1) Why Do People Think Differently?, 2) To Cooperate Or To Defect?

Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Understanding hemisphere difference offers a perspective on the structure of mind which is not available merely by introspection.  If in everyday life we were aware of the discrepancies in the view, or ‘take’, on the world each hemisphere offers, it would render the immediate business of survival impracticable.  For this reason, nature has taken care that these discrepancies should not be part of our everyday awareness.  Even on sustained introspection, we can be only indirectly aware of the fact that reality is constructed from two incompatible world views.  This fact becomes manifest, however, in the disputes of philosophers and theologians over the ages about the very nature of reality.” – Iain McGilchrist, Preface to the New Expanded Edition, Page 28

“The kind of attention we bring to bear on the world changes the nature of the world we attend to, the very nature of the world in which those “functions” would be carried out, and in which those “things” would exist.  Attention changes what kind of a thing comes into being for us: in that way it changes the world.” – Iain McGilchrist, Chapter 1: Asymmetry and the brain, Page 69

“There is even some evidence that we identify projectively with people with whom we share a common purpose – when we are co-operating in a task, for example – to such a degree that we seem to merge identity with them.  In ingeniously designed experiments where two participants are sitting next to one another, sharing a combined task, but with functionally independent roles, the two individuals appear spontaneously to function as one agent with a unified action plan.” – Iain McGilchrist, Chapter, Page 350

Review

Is This An Overview?

The brain has hemispheres that are involved in every task.  But, the way in which the hemispheres are involved are different.  Their roles are different.  They deal with the same information in different ways.  The different roles of the hemispheres enable the brain to function effectively, but the differences also provide different experiences of reality which creates conflict.  They have different values and priorities.  They function well when cooperating, but their competition with each other creates friction.  Problems occur when giving prominence to a hemisphere over another.  The problems occurring due to the conflict are felt indirectly, through culture.  Social problems develop through lack of tolerance at other methods of thinking, as they appear incompatible, with the other being wrong.

 

Caveats?

This book contains a myriad of different cultural and philosophical references.  Prior knowledge of the references would enable the reader to better understand the book.  References that can be interpreted to favor the primary claims about the hemispheric differences. 


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How does the brain use the hemispheres?
•How does each hemisphere experience reality?
•What enables effective functioning of the brain?
•What does each hemisphere process information?
•How do the hemispheres compete?
•What happens when a hemisphere expands? 
•How does the hemispheric competition effect society?
•Can the hemispheric differences be understood through introspection? 
•What has become of empathy?
•Why is there a need to teach people how to read faces? 
•How did evolution effect the brain? 
•What effect does attention have on experience? 
•What is the usual hemisphere division?  Why is it usual? 
•Are the hemispheres symmetrical? 
•How do hemispheres effect language? 
•How does language function?
•How to think about knowledge? 
•How does music effect people? 
•How does the left hemisphere think about responsibility and power? 
•What happens to people when they share a common purpose? 
•How does isolation effect people? 
•How do mainstream claims about what the hemispheres do compare to the author’s findings? 


Book Details
Edition:                  New Expanded Edition
Publisher:               Yale University Press
Edition ISBN:         9780300247459
Pages to read:          622
Publication:             2019
1st Edition:              2009
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    2
Content          2
Overall          2