Reason; as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct

Month: July, 2013

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Prisoner’s dilemma finally probed

Prisoner’s dilemma finally probed

Game theory has previously told us that, regrettably, the best strategy in the classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ problem is betrayal (‘prisoner’s dilemma’ offers two individuals the same choice: cooperate for an equal punishment, or betray. If you betray a cooperating partner, they are punished more severely and you less, but if you both betray you are both punished more harshly). Mathematically, then, our ‘selfish and aggressive instincts’ maximize our chances of survival or victory – unsurprising given the exquisite rigour of evolution in sorting variation for superiority.

For the dismayed rationalist wondering how humans can ever live sustainably and compassionately there is solace in the fact that our evolution moved into a crucial second phase where group selection ruled. Humans lived in packs, and the most successful packs dominated resources. This positively selected for packs that functioned well. Knowing this, it is easy to begin to dissect human behaviour all over again. We conform religiously to the accepted ‘truths’ of the group, to group ideals and values. We have amongst us a brotherhood; in certain circumstances we will transcend survival instincts or solipsistic practice to protect shared interests. Groups with these individuals were far superior to ones without. It is worth noting, of course, that we will, without hesitation, send a competitor group up the river (rival businesses or sports teams etc).

With this in mind, these surprising results from the University of Hamburg should be a little less surprising. Testing the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ concept on actual prisoners, they found that there was more cooperation than a purely mathematical strategy would dictate. Fifty six per cent of prisoners opted to cooperate, yielding an end result of 30% of total pairs cooperating.


Fascinating AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Cornell University’s Astronomy team


“I personally am constantly baffled by the size of space, every time you try to compress things by comparing them to smaller things you very quickly get back to a scale you can no longer comprehend. This is why astronomers have to rely so heavily on mathematics, because the scales involved are beyond comprehension by any other means. I study galaxies and to me they are the most beautiful objects in the Universe, they vary so much in shape, size and colour, making up formations that are almost beyond belief. Striving to explain these objects is a fascinating experience.”

“‘Free will’ is what we call the complex process that happens when we decide” – Stephen Hawking

“He who hid well, lived well” – Descartes; inscribed on his gravestone and thought to refer to the repression of non-religion endorsed thought at the time.

“In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” – Carl Sagan

“The sleep of reason brings forth monsters.”

Weakness feeds weakness


A collaborative Princeton research team of psychologists and neuroscientists have shown that physical exercise increases, so to speak, a brain’s resilience to anxiety. The team have shone light on the underlying substrates which, with the endorsement of further confirmatory research, naturally pave the way for the concept’s incorporation into the rapidly widening landscape of mental health treatments – widening in terms of pending possibility, even if still restrained by fledgling capability. Aside from those that have survived by chance, or arrived by mutation, all an organism’s traits must have endowed it with an advantage at some time in its history. As such, the study discusses the concept in evolutionary terms. Both ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ rely on physical proficiency. Physical proficiency, further still, is always relative to that reliably bigger fish. It follows, then, that less physically fit individuals would benefit, in survival terms, from an innate inclination to avoid having to impart either response.