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Ether Mind

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Education - Request for assistance at end

I've been mulling over the next generation education system for a while. Well, it's been percolating since childhood. I'm not sure exactly when it started to take shape.

The current educational system is a mass production system. Of course, children are not identical inputs; they fall somewhere on a multidimensional gaussian distribution. Let's even say that it's one dimension; IQ. Most students are somewhere near the average, and so the system works fairly well for "most" students. A better or worse implementation of the mass production system can increase that percentage or lower it. Modifications like the Magnet School system are still mass production methods, but (in theory) they take advantage of the economies of scale in urban areas to segment the market and capture a much higher percentage.

In practice, they fail abysmally because the market segmentation that hs been done by educators thus far is semi-moronic. But they might be "better" than nondifferentiated districts.

Did you know that Mass Production is obsolete? It was made obsolete over 30 years ago by Lean Production. AKA the Toyota Production System. Some elements of lean are incorporated into the infamous Six Sigma.

Some families that are particularly poorly served by the mass paradigm opt for home schooling. This is craft production, which depends heavily on the skill of the craftsman (parent). Results are mixed, although the personalized instruction itself tends to make up for the drawbacks. Many parents, unfortunately, are not well equipped to be teachers. Many can't afford it. It's inefficient. Still, if your child is the one thrown on the public school's scrap pile, it may be worth it.

We need to implement lean production. This can be done regardless of whether we continue to use the vast government cartel, private schools, charter schools, or online universities. Politics is only incidental to the implementation.

This lean production system I speak of does not exist yet, so this is not a political call to action. There is no Bill No. 6XX, and no slogan to chant. Once the system has been designed, the implementation has to be planned out as a sort of Kaizen spiral.

Anyway, does anyone have a K-12 curriculum I can have? It can just be a thick sheaf of outlines and references. I'm not even sure if such a thing exists, but what I want is a breakdown of what information the government is trying to feed children. I'd prefer to have one from one of the less bad states if possible.

It's only one reference. The system I envision so far is modular, but there are categories and types of instruction that have to be defined and accounted for in devising the parts. Mm, well, let's say we whipped up a critical chain for every topic in education - colors, letters, logarithms- and then made an entire educational system based on computer instruction. Oops! Can't verify physical training! Whoops, essays need human graders! Oh, and without human contact the subjects have an average lifespan of 11 years.

Well, computer based assignments and feedback and such are nifty technology, and pending further reserch may be quite useful, but I'm not looking to concoct a hodgepodge of half-baked theories, cram it into a large building, and force people to send their children there. That would be stupid.

I forgot what I was going to write about, but it started like...

According to every indicator, I'm a ticking time bomb. Schizoaffective disorder is supposed to be degenerative. I'm afflicted by most of the major causes of stress. Apparently, I also have all the causes AND effects of "loneliness."

But I despise psychology in general. Perhaps my previous post exposed disdain for the social sciences.. Well, their stamp collecting is useful and psychiatry may even do more good than harm. All the useful research I'm aware of was done before 1960, but no matter.. I'm sure it continues.

Usually, this sort of ignorant bias and stereotyping fades away as one learns more of a subject, but I find that I have to grit my teeth and periodically cleanse myself of idiotic BS to get to the morsels of knowledge in the average psychology text.

Opinionated political references used as examples. Non sequiters. Narrowminded ignorance of related fields. Complete obliviousness to cause and effect - everything treated as mere correlation, even when chronology and empirical data suggests cause and effect. This treatment can be properly cautious many times, especially in uncharted waters like the human mind.

Other times, it makes me want to punch the author for being so retarded.

Yes, I do have a stack of psychology textbooks I recently required. No, I will never pay for this tripe.

But, as I say, many of the researchers do excellent stamp collecting work. It seems to be mainly the professors who write the texts that have no comprehension of the material they regurgitate.

Supply and demand, I suppose. Hard sciences need people with hard logic. Corporate anthropology and HR need people with insight. The few clear-thinkers left over try to carry forward the field with little assistance from the vast sea of mediocrities that was created to indoctrinate undergraduate students who have no actual need of a degree.

Meanwhile, I shout into the cavern of the ether mind.

Monday, July 09, 2007

So many man-hours wasted.

I love evolution as much as the next Christian, but I have a disgusting secret: sometimes I prefer the work of directed intelligence. Most of human achievement consists of incremental improvements brought about by trial and error. Some of the experimenters have intuition or a slight sense of where they're headed, but rarely is anything born full-formed from the forehead of its creator.

There are exceptions to greater and lesser degree. Descartes, whatever one may think about the merits of solipsism, seems to have made somewhat of a breakthrough using reasoning, rather than groping in the dark. Rather, reasoning is a different type of groping in the dark than the usual progress. Artistic triumphs have a spark of originality that is lacking in other works that are superficially equally polished and transcendent. Hm, that's a bit different.

I stumbled across this Wikipedia entry on the information society, and it seems to open the door to a subculture of people wsting vast amounts of time discovering something that would be obvious to them if they had broader horizons. (It may seem like I'm bashing them and everything in the entry, although.. I don't disagree with a lot of it. If anything, they are making much ado about nothing.) I'm not claiming that I personally am the first one to point out what I'll write next, but I do have a tendency to gather relevant information and then gradually work into a problem, peeling away layers of abstraction one at a time until the entire theoretical onion is flawless in its own way.

The social scientists and others alluded to in that article are wandering about in n-space, trying to use their own, arbitrary knowledge sets to solve a riddle that is beyond the scope of their expertise. They should realise this and proceed in a rational process of research, but of course, they won't.

Their first mistake is in trying to define a society by randomly selected indicators from different layers of abstraction. You could define a society in terms of religious beliefs, its laws, or its economy. You cannot define it in terms of state penal codes, the percentage of Hare Krishna, and the box office receipts from last Tuesday. These are different things and no amount of philosophising is going to create a coherent theory from them.

The marxists mentioned in the wiki actually got it somewhat right with their tag of "transnational network capitalism." Information Society is not a new form of society in any way, despite the vast superficial changes that are already in progress. If the worker bees had spent any time working on their definitions of society they would already know this.

METHODOLOGY MUST ALWAYS PRECEED RESULTS. Of course, methodology must be based on previous results and updated as necessary, but it's not as if we're working in a vacuum here. The scientific method and various economic and social group descriptors have been around for many years. I'm no social scientist, but even so I'm aware of research as far back as the 1940s at the University of Michigan and other places developing social group descriptors.

Anyway, let's go at this from a logical direction. There may be better ones, but I can guarantee some level of coherence, which is apparently more than we can expect from lower-echelon academics wrestling with the concepts of "culture" and "society."

In economics, there is an assumption of rationality. But what does this mean? Information gathering and processing has a cost. It may very well be in your economic best interest to drive two towns over to buy a flat screen TV and some assorted dairy products, then swap the yogurt for fresh vegetables at a farmer's market. Even accounting for your time and fuel costs, it would still be a good idea because you like fresh produce and there's a sale on TVs in Townsburg. The problem is, you don'tknow about the sale or the farmer's market. You could spend an hour surfing the internet for electronics deals and coupons for every store in a 30 mile radius, plus fliers for farmer's markets. But that's an hour out of your day, with no guarantee that you'll even find anything worthwhile.

That's the cost of information. (If you're aware of all this, gomenasai.)

Besides the simple cost of information, which impacts supply and demand curves significantly, there is the entwined concept of "rationality vs. superrationality" which I have rediscovered and adjusted to fit into my narrow world view. Rationality says that you will select the best alternative from the available options. Superrationality, though I simplify, means finding new options and making elaborate plans and game-theory-like decisions. An anarcho-capitalist utopian society is, apparently, possible. In that it is superior to communism etc. However, it cannot exist under current conditions because it demands too much of the individual, and costs of information are too high.

This isn't, by the way, a screed in favor of my favorite crackpot utopia.

However, there are often discrete effects in economics. Normally, a small change in some variable will prodcue a small corresponding change in the market. By "discrete effects" I mean that the entire structure of a market or group will change when certain threshholds are reached. For example, when overhead costs reach a level where only one firm can operate profitably, an oligopoly will become a monopoly.

Information costs are more or less overhead, as far as I know. They would tend to have the opposite effect. The printing press, an early example of information technology, was simply a reduction in production costs that led to the Reformation, the renaissance in norther europe, and the rise of western civilization as we know it. Still, only the most popular book (singular) and government tracts and suchlike were available at first. Well, I'm not an expert on the history of the printing press, but Movable type (not the blogging software) reduced costs further and created another structural change in the dissemination of information: Daily newspapers, political tracts, the novel, and Astounding Fiction. We now have print-on-demand, which allows self-publishing.

In the beginning, the printing press caused changes in the nature of society, but the printing press itself was not the foundation of society. Democracy and our current egalitarian social order could exist if we were all functionally illiterate, but they wouldn't. A command-and-control feudal system would still be more efficient.

A counterexample would be the interstate highway system. The car culture and lack of good public transportation even in large cities is due to the interstates, and there are alot of structural differences between ourselves and Spain. But the nature of our society is not really determined by these things.

Well, those don't directly support my point, but such is the brilliance of Ether Mind(TM).

Although lowering information costs will change the structure of every market and radically reorganize things, the markets themselves still exist. The ethical systems still fight for survival, and greasy politicians still wrangle over how best stay in office. The underlying structure here is still an emasculated form of capitalism. Calling the new structures an "Information society" misses the point that that was the goal of capitalism all along, and that in capitalist dogma, nirvana consists of zero information costs and no barriers to entry.

I should also point out that IT has the tendency to reduce other overhead cost factors, and other technology is becoming more modular and scalable due to the influence of IT. That leads to more ideally flexible supply curve and markets.

Psh, information society. Join me next time for a discussion of why material goods are the same as information goods, from the perspective of the stoic.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Post #390 - Right Wing Book Review

And most of them are well-thought out drivel. Back when I had some limited amount of traffic, I produced better material.

Well, I hope no one's dying for the next Tales of the Cypherpunk. My PC isn't connecting to the internet lately, and I don't remember to post when I'm hunched over this laptop. This laptop, by the way, is the best 1000$US I ever spent. The past few days it's been on continuously, sucking down anime and... um... anyway, I got a new 500 GB external drive, so that should accomodate me for the forseeable future.

Book Review Starts Here--------

"The Gospel According to Larry" by Janet Tashjian is slightly amusing. I pulled it off the bookshelf at random and read the entire thing, just now, while standing up. The protagonist is a 17-year old pseudointellectual with an IQ around 135, I guesstimate, and specific intelligence ratings somewhat higher in mathematics and such. The book doesn't say that, but I'm pretty good at estimating these things.

The author, of course, might be in the 115 range. Hard to say on that one; She's put years of work into her craft, and you can't use skill to judge intelligence. Although, the nature of consciousness isn't really understood, so let me say more on that. Is an uneducated genius really "smarter" than a mathematician who can solve 43 different problems with only the Fourier series? There are basic physiological aspects of the brain and corresponding mental processes. For example, the nature of electrical resistance and the teensy variations in individual chemistry tell us that some people probably, simply, think faster than others. Is there a measurable difference? I don't know, but my own thoughts vary in speed significantly depending on my mood and the time of day. So a creative genius might well be a slower thinker than Billy Bob the fighter jock.

Then there are higher-level processes, such as the ability to call up associations to pieces of information and then store knowledge effectively. These things can be improved with experience and conscious effort, but can some people simply bring up more associations at one time? Generally, a person can remember five positions on a chess board after seeing it for a few seconds; a grandmaster can remember five "clusters" of pieces, potentially covering the entire board. This is due to experience, rather than greater memory per se. On the other hand, even a rank amateur like myself can memorize the current layout of the board as well as all the moves made, as long as I'm the one playing the game. It is a matter of allowing enough time and attention. Some savants, like this guy, can remember vast numbers of details in a short period of time, presumably because there is a fundamental difference in some physical aspect of his brain. However, I think, based on observation, that his basic method is the same as the one that allows me to play chess by calling out numbers. (Not that I can ever find anyone willing to play chess without a board. I've only done it once. When I was about 16, I met a Russian expatriat hacker and we played two games. He won won, and I almost won one but stupidly allowed a draw. Well, neither of us were that great at chess to begin with.)

And then there is the system of logic, thought patterns, knowledge, skills, and beliefs that are the accessories of the conscious mind. They are not "intelligence" per se, are they? I refer to that set of things as my "Tao" and the brain running them as "hardware." Silly, but whatever. The Tao is easier to improve.

Back to the book review. The 17 year old protagonist adopts the standard pseudointellectual tropes about third world workers' rights and anticonsumerism. He writes a blog about it (in 2000, before every lolicon on the internet had one). He becomes famous due to Bono of U2 fame googling his site, and his real identity is exposed by some harridan known by the screenname "betagold." The ensuing orgy of celebrity worship runs counter to everything he believes in and he eventually fakes his own death. Oh, and his lack of romantic success is pretty much more of the same.

I wouldn't normally give out so many spoilers about the plot, but I am NOT recommending you read this book. I just wanted to talk about some things related to the book. That's what makes Ethermind(TM) so delightful.

It bothers me slightly that when an author tries to portray a character more intelligent than herself, he comes out as a commie. Now, the kid is still in high school- he graduates in the course of the book- and so yes, communist propaganda is what he has mostly been exposed to. He has, apparently, no real knowledge of anything except Dr. Seuss and the ramlings of H.D. Thoreau, yet he is able to concoct a workable scheme to fake his own death. Apparently, in the mind of the author, geniuses are driven to read the dictionary and check out math books from the library compulsively. Oh, and multiplication is an interesting pastime to them. Oh, and Princeton is a good university. I kid - I'm sure that east coast pseudointellectual commie teenagers adore Princeton. Feh.

There are plenty of other stylistic and believability nits to pick, but it really wasn't a bad book. It's just patently obvious that the author knows nothing about the topics she's writing about (except for the inept high school romance and the oh-so-original "I'm an author and I am publishing this nonfictional account on behalf of the real author" endnotes). I just can't figure out if she intended for me to despise the main character this much. I was actually happy at his misfortunes. Maybe he'll learn something.

Oddly for a book about a philosopher, it contained absolutely no philosophy. Well, it wouldn't be so odd except that the tenets of his philosophy became major themes of the narrative. And yet he never makes any attempt to justify or explicate his inane positions. They're basically opinions that he picked up from history class, or so I am forced to conclude. The thing is, anyone with actual, rather than fictional, high intelligence knows that international trade and human rights aren't matters of personal opinion in that sense. Opinions exist because there is not a definitive proof for the correct course of action in most fields, but these are not opinions based on emotion and what seems right at the time. Vast amounts of empirical study and theorizing went into forming them.

Well, it's hard to tell what exactly the author thinks of all this, but I'm inclined to believe that she's as naive as her protagonist.