February 28, 2010

The Meme Machine - by Susan Blackmore

The Meme Machine - by Susan Blackmore

Meme - meaning from Oxford Dictionary - An element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation.

The thesis of this book is that what makes us different is our ability to imitate. When we imitate someone else, something is passed on. This 'something' can then be passed on again and again and so take a life on its own. We might call this thing an idea, an instruction, a behavior, a piece of information... but if we are going to study it we shall need to give it a name. Fortunately, there is a name. It is the 'meme'.

Take a the song "happy Birthday to You'. I only have to write down those four words to have a pretty good idea that you may soon start humming it to yourself. Those words affect you, probably quite without any conscious intention on your part, by stirring up a memory you already possess. And where did that come from ? like millions of other people you have acquired it by imitation. Something some kind of information, some kind of instruction, has become lodged in all those brains so that now we all do the same thing at birthday parties. that something is what we call the meme.

Memes - irrespective of it brings positive or negative means - are selfish like genes and will simply spread if they can. Successful memes are the ones that get copied and spread while unsuccessful ones do not. This is the sense in which memes 'want' to get copied, 'want' you to pass them on and 'do not care' what that means to you or your genes. This is the power behind the idea of memes.

Dawkins (Richard Dawkins's best-selling book The Selfish Gene) introduced the important distinction between 'replicators' and their 'vehicles'. A replicator is anything of which copies are made, including 'active replicators' whose nature affects the chances of their being copied again. A vehicle is the entity that interacts with the environment, which is why Hull (1988a) prefers the term 'interactors' for a similar idea. Vehicles or interactors carry the replicators around inside them and protect them.

"We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. 'Mimeme' comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like 'gene'. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme."

Universal Darwinism
Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is, to my mind, the most beautiful in all of science. Itis beautiful because it is so simple and yet its results are so complex. Itis counter-intuitive and hard to grasp but once you have seen it the world is transformed before your eyes. These is just a stark and mindless procedure by which we have all come about - beautiful but scary. He reasoned that if living creatures vary (as they certainly do) and if due to their geometric increase in numbers, there is at certain times a struggle for life (which cannot be disputed), then it would be most extraordinary if there were not some variation that wasteful to a creature's welfare. The individuals with these characteristics will then have the best chance of being 'preserved in the struggle for life' and will produce offspring with the same characteristics. this was the principle,he called ' natural selection'.

Darwin's argument requires three main features - variation, selection and retention(or heredity). That is, first there must be variation so that not all creatures are identical. Second, there must be an environment in which not all the creatures can survive and some varieties do better than others. third, there must be some process by which offspring inherit characteristics from their parents.

Language provides a good example of cultural evolution. Sir William Jones who in 1786 found remarkable similarities between Sanskrit, Greek & Latin and concluded that all thee languages must have sprung from a common source. There are many languages, but only few could survive. Darwin pointed out the parallel between species and different languages: "We find it distinct languages striking homologies due to community of descent and analogies due to a similar process of formation.. A language like a species, when extinct, never... reappears".

Probably the most important of all inventions is human history was that of farming. But why did farming spread at all? Farming did not make life easier nor did it improve nutrition or reduce disease. Why would people world over have given up an easier life (hunting and gathering) in favor of a life of toil and drudgery? British writer Coil Tudge assumes 'that agriculture arose because it was favored by natural selection' and therefor looks for a genetic advantage. He suggests that because farming produces more food from a given area of land, farmers will produce more food from a given area of land, farmers will produce more children who will encroach on neighboring hunter-gather's lands and so destroy their way of life.

yawning, coughing and laughter are all extremely contagious in humans. Indeed it can be difficult not to laugh if everyone around you is already laughing. This kind of contagion is thought to rely on specific stimulus feature detectors which detect laughing or yawning in someone else and then trigger the same innate behavior as the response. This kind of contagion is not true imitation.

Humans are 'the consummate imitative generalist' Unlike any other animals, we readily imitate almost everything and anything and seems to take pleasure in doing so. If we define memes are transmitted by imitation then we must conclude that only humans are capable of extensive memetic transmission. If we define memes as transmitted by imitation then whatever is passed on by this copying process is a meme. Memes fulfill the role of replicator because they exhibit all three of the necessary conditions, that is heredity(the form and details of the behavior are copied), variation (they are copied with errors, embellishments or other variations) and selection (only some behavior are successfully copied). With Darwin's 'selection of natural process, this is true evolutionary process.

The big brain.
Human brain is enormous. Why? Nobody knows for sure. A common way of comparing brain sizes is to use the ' encephalisation quotient (EQ) which compares a given animal's brain-to-body ration with the average for a group of animals. For any group of related animals a plot of brain size against body size yields a roughly a straight line. If we humans are placed on such a line with our closest living relatives we just do not fit. Our EQ compared with other primates is 3. Our brains are far too large for our bodies. Firstly, this massive increase must have been very expensive in energy terms. It is often said that the brain consumes 20% of the body's energy but consists of only 2 % of the body weight. Unlike muscles which often rest, brain does not even in sleep. Secondly the brain is expensive to build. Thirdly brain is also a dangerous organ to produce.

Did memes drive brain size? I suggested that imitation requires three skills: making decisions about what to imitate, complex transformations from one point of view to another and the production of matching bodily actions. As the new skills begin to spread it becomes more and more important to be able to acquire them. And how do you acquire them? - by imitation , of course. Not only that good imitator becomes increasingly important, but it becomes important to imitate the right people and the right things (e.g. Imitate the most successful people might be one; imitating people who have the most impressive tools, the brightest cloths or the newest skills). As a consequence, whatever is deemed best, spreads fastest.

Another important decision is whom to mate with and again the answer should be the best imitators because they will provide you with children who are more likely to be good imitators. The best the system can do is probably to evolve heuristics such as 'copy the most obvious memes' or copy the most popular memes' or 'copy memes to do with food, sex and willing battles'.

This theory suggests that the main tasks or our larger brains are first, the general ability to imitate and second , the particular ability to imitate the kinds of memes that have proliferated in our species past.

The origins of language.

Why do we talk so much? talking all the time must cost energy. Thinking uses energy, but talking uses a lot more. There are several ways of looking at how memes exert pressure on us to keep talking First, since talking is an efficient way of propagating memes, memes that can get themselves spoken will be copied more often than those that cannot. So these kinds of memes will spread in the meme pool and we will all end up talking a lot. Compare two people - one speaks more and one does not speak. people who hold these memes will talk more; therefore the things they say will be heard more often and have more chances of being picked up by other people. Introductory psychology textbooks tend to make 'obvious' statements like 'The ability to engage in verbal behavior confers decided advantages on our species(Carlson 1993, P.271).

Dawkins identifies three criteria for a successful replicator: fidelity, fecundity and longevity. In other words, a good replicator must be copied accurately, many copies must be made, and copies must last a long time.

Sex and sociobiology:
Life is full of mistakes. male frogs quite frequently try to mate with other males and in some species even have to make 'release call' to escape the unwanted clutch. Homosexuality in many animals and even in humans is sometimes interpreted as a mistake. Evolution has also given us intelligence which has enabled us to work out the function of sex and manipulate things so as to get the pleasure of sex without the costs of child care.

What is beauty? Men find women attractive when they have all the signs of being young and fertile while women are more interested in the status of a potential lover than in his physical appearance. This turns out to have a good biological basis - if a rather complex one.

The basic difference between male and female is that male produce sperms and female produce egg. Eggs are large and expensive to make, while sperms are tiny and relatively cheap. Females also provide great parental care that really makes the difference when it comes to choosing a mate. For men, the most obvious strategy for passing on the most genes is simply to mate as often as you can with whomever you can. Women will pass on the most genes if they can raise a few high quality children with sufficient resources and care to bring them up. This might mean: a - mating with a high quality male. b- finding a male who will provide a lot of parental care.

For men, his genes will fare best if he can impregnate a young , healthy and fertile women and hence he prefer women with a low waist-to-hip ratio (narrow waists and broad hips). The reasons for this are still disputed but broad hips appear to suggest a wide birth canal for safely delivering a big-headed baby. A small waist suggests that the woman is not already pregnant and the last thing a male should want is sex with a pregnant female who may trap him into caring for another man's baby.

larger, clear eyes, smooth skin, fair hair and symmetrical features are good indicators of youth and health - fairness because in fair-skinned peoples hair color darkness with age and symmetry because the effects of a disease are often to create asymmetrical blemishes. meanwhile the woman need be less concerned with beauty and physical appearance. her need is for a high-status male who will possess to be a good protector and provider. This fits with the frequent observation that rich and powerful men pair up with young beautiful women. Women certainly want to get as much male investment as possible, but they may not be able to find both good genes and a good provider in the same man. Indeed a man with good genes - tall, strong and intelligent, for example- may find it so easy to get sex that he need not bother with putting effort to child care. On the 'best of both worlds' theory a woman's best bet may be to capture a nice though unattractive man who will rear her children and then go and get better genes from elsewhere. "Marry a guy but have an affair with your boss".

how does the women in the modern world find the right man where memes can be spread. In modern city, cloths fashions might still be one sign, but others would include musical preference, religious and political view and educational qualifications. More important, though, would be the general ability to spread memes - to be the fashion setter as well as the best follower. This suggests that desirable mates should be those whole lives allow them to spread the most memes, such as writers, artists, journalists, broadcasters, film stars and musicians. There is no doubt that some of these occupations give you a good chance of being mobbed by admirers and of having sex with almost whomever you like. Memetics provides a reason - that creativity and artistic output are ways of copying, using and spreading memes and hence are signs of being a good imitator. I would predict that if these things could be teased out, women would, other things are equal, prefer a good meme-spreader to just a rich man.

Whether you look at this from a sociobiological perspective, or a memetic one, the outcome is similar. the successful practice(or successful memes) are those that provide the greatest genetic advantage in the given environment.The same is true for some widespread sexual taboos. masturbation has been as dirty, disgusting , revolting and as sapping your vital energy. Generations of boys have been brought up to believe that 'playing with themselves' will make them go blind or give them warts or make hair grow on the palms of their hands. Given that young men have a strong desire for sex, dissuading them from masturbation is likely to increase the amount of vaginal sex they will have, thereby increasing the number of their offspring to whole they can pass on the taboo(Lynch 1996). Lynch suggests a similar explanation for the success of their circumcision meme, because circumcision makes masturbation ,more difficult , but not vaginal sex. Women do less masturbation as it makes sense because generally women cannot increase the number of their offspring by having ,pore sex, so from this point of view it does not matter whether thy masturbate or not.

Finally, there are many religion that make use of sex to spread themselves. Catholicism's taboo against birth control has been extremely effective in filling the world with millions of Catholics who bring up their children to believe that condoms and the pill are evil, and that God wants them to have as many children as possible.

There are several ways in which memes might have influenced genes. Priests attain power and status by predicting (or appearing to predict) weather, disease or crop failures; by building or being associated with temples and other grand buildings; by wearing expensive and impressive cloths; and by claiming supernatural powers. In many cultures, priests or rulers are given divine status. We know that women prefer to mate with high-status men and that these men leave more offspring, either by having more wives or by fathering children by women who are not their wives. Even in societies in which the priesthood is celibate and could not (or at least should not) pass on their genes, other people could acquire power by association.

Memetics thus brings us to a new vision of how we might live our lives. We can carry on our lives as most people do, under the illusion that there is a persistent conscious self inside who is in charge, who is responsible for my actions and who makes me me. Or we can live as human beings, body brain and memes, living out our lives as a complex interplay of replicators and environments, in the knowledge that that is all there is. Then we are no longer victims of selfish selfplex. In this sense we can be truly free - not because we can rebel against they tyranny of the selfish replicators but because we know that there is no one to rebel..

Ref Books:
On the Origin of Species by means of natural Selection by Charles Darwin
Virus of the Mind by Richard Brodie
Thought Contagion by Aaron Lynch.
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

February 27, 2010

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
- Why the future of business is selling less of more.

[It is a remarkable book where Chris's synthesis reveals the huge market for non-hits!]

Hits are starting to, rule less. Number one is still number one, but the sales that go with that are not what they once were.

Most of the top fifty best-selling albums of all times were recorded in the seventies and eighties (the Eagles, Michael Jackson) and none of them were made in the past five years. Every network TV loses more of its audience to hundreds of niche cable channels. Male ages eighteen to thirty four the most desirable audience for advertisers are starting to turn off the TV altogether, shifting more and more of their screen time to the internet and video games. Although we still obsess over hits, they are not quite the economics force they once were. Where are those fickle consumers going instead? No single place. They are scattered to the winds as markets fragment into countless niches. The one big growth area is the Web, but it is an uncategorizable sea of million destinations, each defying in its own way the conventional logic of media and marketing.

In the past, it was mass-culture era- the seventies and eighties. Teh average teenager then had access to a half dozen TV channels and virtually everyone watched a few or more of the same handful of TV channels. There were three or four rock radio stations in any town that largely dictated what music people listened to. Contrast to today's teenager who would have a Mac in his bedroom, fully stocked iPod, never known a world without broadband, cell phones, MP3s, TiVo and online shopping. The main effect of all this connectivity is unlimited and unfiltered access to culture and content of all sorts, from mainstream to the farthest fringe of the underground.

The greatest thing about broadcast is that it can bring one show to millions of people with unmatchable efficiency. But it can't do the opposite - bring a million shows to one person each. Yet that is exactly what the internet does so well. The economics of broadcast era required hit shows - big buckets - to catch huge audience. The economics of broadband era are reversed. Serving the same stream to millions of people at the same time is hugely expensive and wasteful for a distribution network, optimized for point-t-point communication. The era- of one-size-fit-for-all is ending, and in its place is something new, a market of multitudes.

From perspective of a store like Wall-Mart, the music industry stops at less than 60,000 tracks. However for online retailers like Rhapsody the market is seemingly never-ending. Not only is every one of Rhapsody's top 60,000 tracks streamed at lease once, each month, but the same is true for its top 100,000, top 200,000 and top 400,000 -even its top 600,000, top 900,000 and beyond. As fast as Rhapsody adds tracks to its library, those songs find an audience, even if it's just a handful of people every month, somewhere in the world - This is the last tail. You can find everything out here in the long tail.

Take books: the average Borders carries around 100,000 titles. Yet about a quarter of Amazon's book sales come from outside its 100,000 titles. Venture Capitalist and former music industry consultant Kevin laws puts it this way:" The biggest money is in teh smallest sale".

Broadly, the Long Tail is about abundance. Abundant shelf space, abundant distribution, abundant choice.

Rise and fall of Hit:

Before the industrial revolution, most culture was local. The economy was agrarian which distributed populations as broadly as teh land and distance divided people. Culture was fragmented, creating everything from regional accents to folks music. The lack of rapid transportation and communications limited cultural missing and the propagation of new ideas and trends. In was an earlier era of niche culture one determined more by geography than affinity. Influences varied from town to town because the vehicles for carrying common culture were so limited.

But with industrial revolution things started to change - news paper spread world of the latest fashions and moving pictures which gave the stars of stage a new recorded medium to reach bigger audience and play many towns simultaneously.

We are gregarious species, highly influenced by what others do and with film, there was a medium that could not only show us what other people were doing, but could also endow it with such an intoxicating glamor that it was hard to resist, It was dawn of the celebrity age.

Food marketing Institute describes the effect on opportunity for customers to select products directly from shelves. 'The supermarket helped create the Middle Class. Its low prices freed up substantial funds for families to spend on cars, homes, education and other needs and amenities of life. As supermarkets proliferated in the 1950s and 1960s, they played a pivotal role in creating the American middle class. On the supermarket's silver anniversary, President Kennedy said that the supermarket's low-cost mass marketing techniques."

In his autobiography,Boris Yeltsin gave this account of his 1989 visit to a supermarket in Houston: "When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons, and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it."

The Ultimate Catalog:

Jeff Bezos of Amazon asked himself as he sat at his desk at the hedge fund D. E. Shaw in New York:

It turns out that selection is a very important customer experience driver in the book category. It also turns out that you can't have a big book catalog on paper; it's totally impractical. There are more than 100,000 new books published every year, and even a superstore can't carry them all. The biggest superstores have 175,000 titles and there are only about three that big. So that became the idea: let Amazon.com be the first place where you can easily find and buy a million different books.

What retailers need is an efficient, economically sustainable way to sell a book that sells just one copy per year. And that means near-zero inventory costs. Amazon's solution was print-on-demand.

In its idealized form books
stay as digital files until they're purchased, at which time they're printed on laser printers and come out looking just like regular paperbacks. Since bits are turned into atoms only when an order comes in, the costs scale perfectly with the revenues. Or, to put it in the simplest terms, the production and inventory cost of a print-on-demand book that is never bought is zero.

Consider this analysis of the "Long Tail of national security" by John Robb, a military analyst who runs the Global Guerrillas Web site:
Traditionally, warfare (the ability to change society through violence) has been limited to nation-states, except in rare cases. States had a monopoly on violence. The result was a limited, truncated distribution of violence. That monopoly is on the skids due to three trends:

• A democratization of the tools of warfare. Niche producers (for example: gangs) are made possible by the dislocation of globalization. All it takes to participate is a few men, some box-cutters, and a plane (as an example of simple tools combined with leverage from ubiquitous economic infrastructure).
• An amplification of the damage caused by niche producers of warfare. The magic of global guerrilla systems disruption which turns inexpensive attacks into major economic and social events.
• The acceleration of word of mouth. New groups can more easily find/train recruits, convey their message to a wide audience, and find/coordinate their activities with other groups (allies).

The result: a Long Tail has developed. New niche producers of violence have flourished. Demand for the results these niche suppliers can produce has also radically increased. Big concepts (such as a struggle between Islam and the U.S.), not championed by states, have supercharged niche suppliers like al Qaeda and its clones.

Collectively, all of this translates into six themes of the Long Tail age:

1. In virtually all markets, there are far more niche goods than hits. That ratio is growing exponentially larger as the tools of production become cheaper and more ubiquitous.
2. The costs of reaching those niches is now falling dramatically. Thanks to a combination of forces including digital distribution, powerful search technologies, and a critical mass of broadband penetration, online markets are resetting the economics of retail. Thus, in many markets, it is now possible to offer a massively expanded variety of products.
3. Simply offering more variety, however, does not shift demand by itself. Consumers must be given ways to find niches that suit their particular needs and interests. A range of tools and techniques—from recommendations to rankings—are effective at doing this. These "filters" can drive demand down the Tail.
4. Once there's massively expanded variety and the filters to sort through it, the demand curve flattens. There are still hits and niches, but the hits are relatively less popular and the niches relatively more so.
5. All those niches add up. Although none sell in huge numbers, there are so many niche products that collectively they can comprise a market rivaling the hits.
6. Once all of this is in place, the natural shape of demand is revealed, undistorted by distribution bottlenecks, scarcity of information, and limited choice of shelf space. What's more, that shape is far less hit-driven than we have been led to believe. Instead, it is as diverse as the population itself.

Bottom line: A Long Tail is just culture unfiltered by economic scarcity.

Each year, nearly 200,000 books are published in English. Fewer than 20,000 will make it into the average book superstore. Most won't sell.

Consider Lulu.com, which is a new breed of DIY publisher. For less than two hundred dollars, Lulu can not only turn your book into a paperback or hardcover and give it an ISBN number, but also ensure that it gets listed with online retailers. Once it's listed, the book will be available to an audience of millions and potentially side by side with Harry Potter, if the winds of the recommendation engines blow that way. With Lulu, the copies are printed in batches as small as a few dozen and the inventory is replenished as needed via print-on-demand. It's an extraordinary improvement over the scorned "vanity" publishing model of just a few years ago. As a result, thousands of authors are now choosing this route.

"Maximum SAT" is a such a book printed and published in this way and a great hit.

For the first time in history, we're able to measure the consumption patterns, inclinations, and tastes of an entire market of consumers in real time, and just as quickly adjust the market to reflect them. These new taste-makers aren't a super-elite of people cooler than us; they are us. The trend watchers at Frog Design, a consultancy, see this as nothing less than an epochal shift:

We are leaving the Information Age and entering the Recommendation Age. Today information is ridiculously easy to get; you practically trip over it on the street. Information gathering is no longer the issue—making smart decisions based on the information is now the trick. . . . Recommendations serve as shortcuts through the thicket of information, just as my wine shop owner shortcuts me to obscure French wines to enjoy with pasta.

Filters make up what Rob Reid, one of the founders of Listen.com, calls the "navigation layer" of the Long Tail. It's not unique to the Internet and, as he points out, it's not new:
Interestingly, the power and importance of the navigation layer is not strictly an online phenomenon. For many years American Airlines made more money from its Sabre electronic reservation system (essentially the travel industry's shared navigation layer for the bewildering world of routes and airfares in the seventies and eighties) than the entire airline industry made collectively from charging people money to ride on planes. From time to time, certain Baby Bells
were bringing in more profits from their yellow pages—essentially the navigation layer of all local business before the Web came along—than from their inherited monopolies. And at its peak, TV Guide famously rivaled the actual networks in profitability.

In a world of infinite choice, context—not content—is king.

Taleb notes, random factors are just as likely to be responsible for that neighborly millionaire as investing strategies.He defines a Black Swan as:

"A random event satisfying the following three properties: large impact, in-computable probabilities, and surprise effect.

First, it carries upon its occurrence a disproportionately large impact.
Second, its incidence has a small but in-computable probability based on information available prior to its incidence.
Third, a vicious property of a Black Swan is its surprise effect: at a given time of observation there is no convincing element pointing to an increased likelihood of the event".

He could just as easily be describing a blockbuster hit.

These are some of the other mental traps we fall into because of scarcity thinking:
• Everyone wants to be a star
• Everyone's in it for the money
• If it isn't a hit, it's a miss
• The only success is mass success
• "Direct to video" = bad
• "Self-published" = bad
• "Independent" = "they couldn't get a deal"
• Amateur = amateurish
• Low-selling = low-quality
• If it were good, it would be popular.

One of the classic examples was the chart in my old Economics textbook that demonstrated the trade-off between long-range bombers and new school buildings. There the constraint was money. Here, the constraint is time. It takes time to find the items you want, and most people will buy what they are looking for the first place they find it rather than look for a lesser price. This is why retail stores place all those little items next to the cash register. Availability and convenience equals more sales. For that matter, so-called "convenience stores" like 7/11 make most of their money from milk, bread, beer, and soft drinks, which they sell for far more than the price at the local supermarket. What is sold is not so much the product as the fact that it is available, right now.

Virginia Postrel observed that the variety boom is nothing more than a reflection of the diversity inherent in any population distribution:
Every aspect of human identity, from size, shape, and color to sexual proclivities and intellectual gifts, comes in a wide range. Most of us cluster somewhere in the middle of most statistical distributions. But there are lots of bell curves, and pretty much everyone is on a tail of at least one of them. We may collect strange memorabilia or read esoteric books, hold unusual religious beliefs or wear odd-sized shoes, suffer rare diseases or enjoy obscure movies.

In 1958, Raymond Williams, the Marxist sociologist, wrote in Culture and Society: "There are no masses; there are only ways of seeing people as masses."

Is a fragmented culture a better or worse culture? Many believe that mass culture serves as a sort of social glue, keeping society together. But if we're now all off doing our own thing, is there still a common culture? Are our interests still aligned with those of our neighbors?

Christine Rosen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, shares Sunstein's concerns. In an essay in The New Atlantis, she writes:
If these technologies facilitate polarization in politics, what influence are they exerting over art, literature, and music? In our haste to find the quickest, most convenient, and most easily individualized way of getting what we want, are we creating eclectic personal theaters or sophisticated echo chambers? Are we promoting a creative individualism or a narrow individualism? An expansion of choices or a deadening of taste?

The secret to creating a thriving Long Tail business can be summarized in two imperatives:
1. Make everything available.
2. Help me find it.

Now that you've got the big picture, here are nine rules of successful Long Tail aggregators:
Rule 1: Move inventory way in . . . or way out.
Rule 2: Let customers do the work.
Rule 3: One distribution method doesn't fit all.
Rule 4: One product doesn't fit all.
Rule 5: One price doesn't fit all.
Rule 6: Share information.
Rule 7: Think "and," not "or."
Rule 8: Trust the market to do your job.
Rule 9: Understand the power of free.

February 7, 2010

Life Ascending - by Nick Lane.

Life Ascending - by Nick Lane.

[From the viewpoint of biochemist about 10 great inventions of evolution; they are the origin of life, DNA, Photosynthesis, The Complex Cell, Sex, Movement, Sight, Hot Blood, Consciousness,& Death. Interesting, but easier to folks from that background]

This is a redox reaction in which electrons are transfered from a donor (hydrogen) to an acceptor (oxygen) which wants them a lot more to form water, a thermodynamically stable product. All redox reactions involve electrons transfer from a donor to an acceptor and remarkably all life, from bacteria to man, relies on electron transfer. of one sort or another for its energy. As the Nobel Laureate Albert Sznet-Gyorgy put ir, " Life is nothing but an electron looking for a place to rest".

There are 3 billion letters (base pairs) in the human genome. every-time a cell divides, it replicates all of its DNA - a process that takes place in a matter of hours. The human body is a monster of 15 million million cells , each one harboring its own faithful copy of the same DNA.  To form your body from a single egg cell, your DNA helices were prised apart to act as a template 15 million million times. Each letter is copied with a precision bordering on the miraculous , recreating the order of copied with a precision with an error rate of about one letter in 1,000 million. 

Each generation is different from the last, not only becase our genes are stirred by sex, but also becasue we all carry new mutations. Sex is most peculiar randomizer of successful genes known.an infamous, albeit mostly hamrless organization known as 'Nobel sperm bank' fell into exactly that trap. Most of us sense that teh magic of sex (as a form of reproduction) lies in exactly this ability to generate variation, to pull a unique being from a hat every time. 

Oxygen is the key to planetary life. Oxygen does not just rescue a planet's life; it energizes all life and makes it big. Bacteria can do perfectly well without oxygen; they have an unparalleled skill at electrochemistry, they are able to react to react together virtually all molecules to glean a little energy. Photosynthesis and respiration are equal and opposite processes. In a nutshell, photosynthesis makes organic molecules from two simple molecules, carbon dioxide and water, using sunlight to provide the energy needed. Respiration does exactly the opposite. When we burn organic molecules(food) we release carbon dioxide and water back into air; and the energy released is what powers our lives. All our energy is a beam of sunlight set free from its captive state in food.

There is about 550 times Oxygen than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However even though atmosphere oxygen levels have not changed much at all, rising temperature lowers the solubility of oxygen in water. 

Hot blood is all about metabolic rate, all about the pace of life. However hot-blooded animals are not necessarily any hotter than cold-blooded animals, for most reptiles are adept at absorbing energy of the sun, warning their core body temperature up to levels similar to mammals and birds. But cold-blooded animals don't maintain such high temperature at night, and hot-blooded animals (humans & birds) are inactive at night too, but their hot-blood level is still the same throughout the whole life. Col-dblooded animals save energy by not keeping the same hot-temparature at night.

The main drawback wth cold-blooded animals is stamina. Lizards can match mammals easily for speed or muscle power and indeed over short distances outpaces them; but they exhaust quickly. Grab a lizard and it will disappear in a flash, streaking to the nearest cover as fast as they eyes can see. But then it rests, often for hours, recuperating painfully slowly from the exertion. The problem is that reptiles are not built for comfort, but for speed. The difference is written into the structure of muscle. Three key components in muscle: muscle fibers, capillaries, and mitochondria. In essence the muscle fibers contract to generate force, the blood capillaries supply oxygen and remove waste, while the mitochondria burn up food with oxygen to provide the energy needed for contraction. Train to be sprinter and you will develop bulky 'fast-twitch' muscles with lots of power but littel stamina. Train to be a long-distance runner and you'll shift the other way. That is why Nepalese, East Africans and Andean Indian have a good many traits in common - traits that lend themselves to life at high altitude - whereas lowlanders are heavier and bulkier.

The maximal metabolic rate is defined as the amount of oxygen consumed at full rate when we can push ourselves no further. It depends on many things, including fitness and genes. The maximal metabolic rate depends ultimately on the rate of oxygen consumption by the end-users, the mitochondria in the muscles. The faster they consume oxygen, the faster they maximal metabolic rate. But even a cursory refelction makes it plain that many factors must be involved, all of them iterrelated. it will depend on the number of mitochondria, the number of capillaries supplying them, the blood pressure, the sizt and structure of the heart, the number of red blood cells, the precise molecular structure of the oxygen-transporting pigment(haemoglobin), the the diaphragm and so on. 

According to a quietly significant paper that slipped into a quietly obscure journal, 'Ecology Letter' in 2008, the vegetarians may have a lot more to be smug than they credit. If we weren't vegitarians or rather their ancestral herbivores, we may never have evolved hot blood and fast pace of life that goes with it. We need to eat proteins to ensure that we get enough nitrogen in our diet which is i=needed for making fresh portiens for ourselves as well as DNA, both rich in nitrogen. Eat meat for proteins and if you are a vegetarians, make sure you eat plenty of nuts, seeds and pulses. 

Eye changed over these millions of years; the early humans eyes no wherr near to the present eyes of humans, The succession of steps needed to evolve an eye according to Dan-Eric Nelson and Susanne Pelger with an approximate number of generations for each change. Assumeing each change is one year, the full progression requires somewhat less than half-a-million years.

The Capitalist's Bible - Edited by Gretchen Moregenson

The Capitalist's Bible - Edited by Gretchen Moregenson

[This book provide you all types of economic theories and then go over the US's great Capitalists; followed by list of great ref. books for further research.]

Classical Economic Theory: 

Classical economics emphasized individual liberty and the ability of each person to determine his own best interests and therefore the good sand services that prove most prosperous will be the ones that benefits the most people.  Declaration of independence refer tot eh inalienable rights of life, liberty (social freedom)and pursuit of happiness. Industrialization brought weakness of classical economic theory. Un checked greed can actually restrict economic liberty for the common man, leading to monopolies and collision which are harmful to consumers. Competition can lead to wages that fall below the subsistence level, esp. if workers don't have other options or are kept in debt to their employers (as with sharecropping)

Neoclassical Economic Theory: 

This is based on marginal utility which is a subjective theory of value - one that focuses on the value of a thing to consumers, not the cost that producers put into it.Neoclassical economist began to look at the cost and value of any good or services in terms of supply and demand: when demand goes up or supply goes down, the value rises, even though the item has not changed. Neoclassical economics as practices and taught for most of the 20th century, because a theory of static resource allocation. Capital and population are treated as given parameters. It is not that neoclassical economist are uninterested in growth and development; it's just that the mathematical methods developed because of the marginal  revolution are so good at what they do that people limited their subject matter.

Marxian Economic Theory: 

This is based on the labor theory of value. Marx contended that competition to save on labor costs and increase profits. the new technology makes more money for the company, at the expense of other capitalists, since their composition of capital - or the ratio of dead elements (tool) to living elements(workers)-rises. At the same time, using the new technique lowers the value of the commodity by reducing the amount of necessary labor. The under-consumptionist theories  suggests that workers only receive a fraction of the value produced, leaving excess supply on the market. Marx's dynamic analsyis of accumulation and argue that disproportional growth between various interdependednt sectors of economy would result in capitalist breakdown.

Concepts of Capitalism: 

Supply is one of the most fundamental concepts of economics. In microeconomic theory (the study of how individuals, firms, and certain market sectors make economic decisions), supply refers to the production of markets and is function of prices and costs of production. In macroeconomics(the study of the performance, behavior and structure of national or regional economics), aggregate supply refers to the production of whole economics and is depending on macroevconomic theoy, thought to depend factos such as howsehold savings, cptal stock, labor force and technology. Since good and services are - with the exception of household production- supplied by businessm the supply side is often synonmous with business sector.

One of the pillars of microeconomic price theory is the law of supply; all things being equal, the quantity of a good rises as the market price rises and falls as the price falls. 

Economics and Game Theory: 

Game theory is branch of mathematics that analysis the structure of game in terms of basic elements - players, rules, strategies, timing, outcomes and payoffs and while it studies real games - board games, computer games, card games- many of the 'games' it studies are real-world scenarios examined from a game-theorist point of view in order to distill a complicated whole into those constitute parts. 

It is first came to prominence after the publication of 'the Theory of games and Economic Behavior' by mathematician Jon Von Neuman & economist Oskar Morgenstern . There are two distinctive ways of describing game mathematically. The extensive form and normal or strategic form which is less detailed than the extensive form. Extensive form describers play by means of a game tree that explicitly indicate when players move which moves are available and what they kknow about the moves of other players and the 'state of nature' when they move. Most importantly. it specifies the payoffs that players receive at the end of game. 

A zero-sum game is one in which the total payoffs to all palyers in the game adds to zero. In other words, each player benefits only at the expense of others. Chess & Poker are zero-sum games because one wins exactly he amount one's opponents lose. Bz. and politics are non-zero-sum games because some outcomes are good for all players or bad for all players. 

A cooperative game is one in which the players may freely communicate among themselves before making game decisions and may make bargains to influence those decisions. Monopoly is a cooperative game and so are most board games. 

Prisoner's dilemma a thought experiment in which two prisoners are segregated from each other, each of them given a choice with an outcome determined by the other's choice, is not a cooperative game. 

A complete information game is a game in which each player has the same game-relevant info as every other player. Chess is a complete information game, while Poker is not.

The theory suggests that Economics is based on the assumption hat human begins and institution they create, are absolutely rational in their economic choices. Specifically the assumption is that each person or institution maximizes their rewards - profits, incomes or subjective benefits - in the circumstances that they face. The game theory framework is ideal for this and theorist like Augustan Cournot have devised famous application of ti. Market failures such as over-exploitations of fisheries, global warming and inadequate committed to research are additional examples of games. In this realm, the individual pursuing self-interest is pitted against the broader goals of society.

Absolute Advantage: a situation that occurs when better natural endowments or production-related experience equip one nation with the ability to produce more of good than another nation, even though both nations have equal quanitites of resources. 

Books/sites to read for additional materials from this book:







The Wealth of Nation - by Adam Smith

Capitalism and Freedom - Milton Freedman & Rose D. Friedman.